Oil greased the wheels of the Iraq war machine

Recently, I was confronted with the startling fact that there are people in this country, even among the educated at this school, who still deny that there is any tie between Western fossil fuel interests and the Iraq War.

In my infamous liberal naiveté I had assumed that most people not hosting neo-conservative talk shows had come to recognize the hand-in-hand nature of our energy needs and our operations in Iraq. I was more or less convinced of the real cause of the war when former President Bush stated outright in 2006 that to pull out of Iraq would be to hand radicals the ability to hold the world hostage by threatening to stop pumping its oil supplies and demand that the U.S. "retreat and let us continue to expand our dark vision."

Never mind that Iraq was never a major exporter and it actually did stop pumping altogether in the months after the invasion (with no noticeable impact on oil prices); Bush's fear-mongering did constitute a slip in his administration's veil over the main reason for our involvement in the war.

But for those needing more persuading, I offer some evidence: On Sept. 22, Shell (on the Pentagon's payroll to the tune of $2.1 billion in 2007 alone) signed a $4 billion contract to develop Iraq's natural gas infrastructure in Basra for domestic use and export. Shell will take 49 percent of profits and the Basra South Gas Company, 51 percent.

Shell's reasoning behind its contract is that the Iraqi gas industry needs investment to realize its potential. And, staggering as Iraq's economy and infrastructure are after the war, that much is true. But with the kind of cut Shell is taking, it's hard to say with a straight face that the oil giant's main goal is to help elevate the standard of life for "liberated" Iraqis.

Iraqis seem to agree. According to The Guardian, Issam al-Chalabi, Iraq's oil minister between 1987 and 1990, criticized the Oil Ministry for not being more competitive in the gas deal, claiming that the contract had gone to Shell "as the spoils of war."

The Guardian continues by saying, "Shell appears to be paying $4 billion to get hold of assets that in 20 years could be worth $40 billion. Iraq is giving away half its gas wealth and yet this work could have been done by Iraq itself."

When you factor in the record profits bonanza oil companies have been enjoying, the situation looks even more like a heist. When Exxon executives were asked by a House committee in May 2008 to explain their record-high profits even as consumers suffered at the pump, the execs replied that prices were "in an up cycle." And in January 2009, despite a 50 percent drop in profits in the final quarter of 2008 (due to declining oil prices caused by global recession), Shell still reported record-busting profits.

In any case, the Iraq War is ending, and as the fighting winds down and pullout dates are negotiated, I think we should ask ourselves, "Who won?" It wasn't the American people, who now stagger under economic recession and vastly regard the Iraq war as not worth the fight. And it wasn't the Iraqi people, who lost loved ones and endured years of invasion. For the answer, we need only turn to an age-old adage: "To the victor go the spoils."

Matt Dubois is a senior English major who thinks Ocean's 11 was a better heist. At least that had George Clooney.

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