Oil: the central reason for the Iraq invasion

Oil: the central reason for the Iraq invasion
Analysis: Twelve years ago, invading US forces overthrew the Baath regime. Whatever pretexts were given at the time, the central reason was oil, writes Said Arikat.
7 min read
12 April, 2015
Was it all about oil? [Getty]

On April 9, 2003, twelve years ago, one of the most important Arab capitals, Baghdad, fell to a foreign an invading army.


The invading American army conquered Baghdad without much resistance or visible violence, and sought to reach out to the populace with typical American grandstanding gestures of friendliness.


But twelve years on, the world learns however, that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq sparked horrific

     The way US companies have been able to position themselves after the war has given them a decided advantage.

violence not seen in the country since the Mongol invasion more than eight centuries earlier.


Estimates of the number of deaths in Iraq as a direct result the US invasion range from 640,000 by the Lancet surveys of Iraq war casualties between 2003-2006, to 1 million dead, according to others.


With violence at its current level in Iraq (more than 6,000 dead in the month of March alone, according to UN estimates) it may never be possible to know exact figures for the number of Iraqi deaths since the American invasion in March 2003 and until today. It should be noted that the violence inflected on Iraq has been exacerbated since the departure of American combat troops from Iraq in December 2011, due to the emergence of al-Qaeda, then the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) and an array of virulently violent groups fighting each other for turf or treasure.

Pretexts and excuses


The US decision to begin bombing Iraq again last September has added dramatically to the number of casualties, many of whom are civilians caught in the middle, as America’s mighty air power seeks to obliterate IS.


As Iraq commemorates the twelfth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Washington remains caught in a continued back-and-forth recriminations over who is responsible for what in Iraq's on-going catastrophe, while failing to dig deep into what drove the United States to go to an unprovoked war in Iraq.


Many still cite the George W. Bush administration's claims that the post-9/11 climate allowed a belated reckoning with Saddam Hussein, who, it was claimed (without a shred of evidence) "had continued to sponsor terrorism” and was pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).


To this accusations was added a litany of complaints: He had, over the years, “invaded or attacked four of his neighbours, killed tens of thousands of his own people" in the words of the then Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney and other administration officials. Saddam Hussein, “was a threat to the region and to his own people."


In this context, it is often noted that the end of the 1991 Gulf War 12 years earlier had figured large in the decision to go to war, as its conclusion had not led to the removal of a defeated Saddam, as the G.H.W Bush administration believed it would, but the tightening of his grip on power, and his regime's ability to brutally quell revolts of Kurds in the north and Shia in south, prompting a group hawks known as the neo-conservatives (neo-cons) to warn that soon Saddam would reclaim his regional stature unless removed. This allowed them to pass "The Iraq Liberation Act" through the US Congress, which was signed into law on September 29, 1998 by President Bill Clinton and cited by Bush in October 2002 as the basis for using military action in Iraq to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.


The neo-cons, who were key players in the 1991 American war on Iraq, the likes of Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney, Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and members of Project for the New American Century (PNAC), with strong ties to Israel's Likud – the likes of Richard Perle, Douglass Feith, Michael Ladeen among others, and now (2002) were once again in power and feeling a sense of manifest destiny to "correct the mistake of leaving Saddam in power".

Nefarious neo-cons


As evidence tying Saddam's regime to 9/11, the neo-cons began one of the most intense spin operations in history on how his remaining in power, with arsenals of WMD, would somehow pose an imminent and present threat to the United States and the world, making the war an urgent necessity.


Many however believe that when all is said and done, the invasion, while good for smashing potential enemies of Israel, and central to unchallenged American global hegemony, it was also central to the US oil interests.


Reports show that a mere two weeks into his administration, Bush set up the National Energy Policy Development Group and appointed his Cheney as its chairman. This task force met in closed-door, secret sessions for several months and invited a large number of energy industry executives and lobbyists for consultation. Precisely what was discussed is still difficult to determine exactly, since the Bush administration fought successive Freedom of Information Act (FOI) bids. However the few successes in forcing the administration to reveal some of what went on in these meetings show clearly that Iraq's oil was at the very top of its agenda. 


Whereas before the invasion the immediate prospects of US companies taking any advantage of a post-sanctions scramble to develop Iraq's oil industry was remote, the way US companies have been able to position themselves after the war has given them a decided advantage over other countries seeking to make money from Iraq's oil. Lucrative sub-contracted work - where most of the money is - has in large measure fallen to US corporations like Baker Hughes, Weatherford, Schlumberger and Halliburton.


The conservative foundation Judicial Watch finally managed to get some insight into the early 2001 activities of Cheney's secretive energy group via a successful FOI request to the US Commerce Department in July 2003. The department provided Cheney's task force with a variety of documents relating to Iraq's oil industry, including extensive maps of Iraqi oil fields and infrastructure, charts of Iraqi oil and gas projects and documents on pre-sanctions Iraqi oil deals such as "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts”. 


It claimed that one public document that did emerge from Cheney's task force is an analysis it commissioned from the James A. Baker Institute in April 2001 entitled "Strategic Policy Challenges for the 21st Century." This analysis detailed what its authors considered the key threats to US "energy security" and suggested strategies for addressing them with Iraq and Saddam featuring prominently in several key sections. 

'Of course it's about oil'


Bush administration officials acknowledge that oil was an important incentive for war, but only "because Iraq’s oil revenues meant that Saddam would always have the resources to foment trouble in the region”.


But since the invasion, numerous statements and attributions strongly suggest that oil was the primary reason the US invaded Iraq. If so, it would not be surprising that the number one consumer of oil in the world would invade an oil-rich country like Iraq, not least with some assessments suggesting Iraq, not Saudi Arabia, has the largest oil reserves in the world. US control over these reserves, which are still largely unexplored and may even prove larger than estimated, would give the United States, an overwhelming leverage over friends and foes alike.


It has been 12 years since Baghdad fell to the American invading army, and more than three years since American combat forces left Iraq, but Western oil companies by all accounts are thriving. In this context it should be noted that before the 2003 invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies.  Today, it is largely privatized and fully dominated by foreign firms. From ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West's largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq. So have a slew of American oil service companies, including Halliburton, the Texas-based firm Cheney ran before becoming Bush's running mate in 2000. The war is the only reason for this long sought and newly acquired access by Halliburton.


To be sure, oil was not the only reason for invading Iraq, but it was certainly the central one, as top US military and political figures have attested to in the years following the invasion.


"Of course it's about oil; we can't really deny that," said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of US Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan agreed, writing in his memoir, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."


The then Senator (who recently resigned as Obama's Secretary of Defence) Chuck Hagel said the same in 2007, "People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are."