Monday, December 14, 2009

More Evidence Naomi Klein Was Wrong On Iraq

Author Naomi Klein has long been a vocal critic of the Iraq War, saying that the goal of the conflict wasn't to liberate the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, but rather from their oil. Last year in an op-ed in The Guardian, she said: "'We' are already heisting Iraq's oil, or at least are on the brink of doing so...". The op-ed was an expansion of the argument she laid out in her book Shock Doctrine, where she expounded on the theory of "disaster capitalism": that the government engineers crises so that private sector companies can then reap huge profits in dealing with the aftermath.

The problem (for Klein) is that the oil contracts auctioned off by the Iraqi government last week really undercut her main argument - that the war was a gimmick for American (and maybe British) oil companies to cheaply snap up Iraqi oil reserves. If there was anything more remarkable than the truly international spread of the companies winning the bids it was how American companies were almost totally absent among the bidders.

Iraq is the plum site in the oil-producing universe. The country is believed to have the third largest proven oil reserves in the world. Thanks to decades of mismanagement by Saddam Hussein, these oil fields are largely underdeveloped, meaning that Iraq likely has the last stand of large, easily-accessible oil fields left in the world, period. So of course, now that there's some semblance of security across much of Iraq, oil companies are eager to get access to the fields. This prompted the Iraqi Oil Ministry to auction off development contracts for 15 fields this past weekend, the second such auction they've held.

And the biggest winner seems to have been Russia's Lukoil, which (with their Norwegian partner Statoil ASA) won the rights to West Qurna Phase 2, with perhaps more than 12 billion barrels of oil buried under the sands. The other big winner in the auction was China's state-run oil company China NPC, which won a bid (in partnership with Britain's BP) for the Rumaila field, among other deals. Companies from Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Malaysia, The Netherlands, and even Angola's oil company Sonangol all also won bids or were in consortia that won bids for some of the 13 other fields. The only US company to win even a portion of a bid in this second round was Occidental, who is a quarter-partner in a consortium that won a bid for the Zubair field.

All of that would seem to undermine Klein's argument from The Guardian, that the war was meant so that "we" (I assume she means the United States) could "heist" Iraq's oil. Most of the companies that submitted winning bids were from countries that had no involvement in the Iraq War, some - like Russia - were even vocal critics. The Iraqi Oil Ministry rejected a fair number of bids as being insufficient, and decided to develop five of the fields offered on their own since foreign companies were concerned over the security situation in those parts of Iraq and were unwilling to make the commitment to develop them.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh summed up the auction this way to Reuters: "for us in Iraq, it shows the government is fully free from outside influence. Neither Russia nor America could put pressure on anyone in Iraq - it is a pure commercial, transparent competition." He added, "no one, even the United States, can steal the oil, whatever people think."

No word on whether he meant Naomi Klein.
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