Oil is still a dark stain on Iraq

It was Alan Greenspan who first let slip. In 2007, to the great glee of the anti-war movement, the elder statesman of American finance recognised that the real motive for the Iraq War had little to do with weapons of mass destruction.

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq War is largely about oil,” wrote the former Federal Reserve chairman in his memoirs.

On 30 June, US troops began their much-anticipated withdrawal from Iraqi cities at the same time as the Iraqi government began to auction off some of the nation’s largest oilfields to companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum and Exxon Mobil. As Iraqis spilled out on to the streets to celebrate a “day of national sovereignty”, foreign multinationals jostled each other, live on Iraqi television, to bid for the 20-year rights to six fields that hold more than five billion barrels of cheap and easily extractable crude oil.

Not that anyone in Britain really noticed the coincidence, with events in Iraq overshadowed by everything from the fate of Gordon Brown’s premiership to Michael Jackson’s death. But Iraq still matters. As US forces move out, and foreign oil companies move in, it is worth remembering the price paid by ordinary Iraqis for the removal of Saddam Hussein. For six years, Iraq has been plagued by levels of violence, bloodshed and insecurity unmatched anywhere else on earth. The death toll is estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and a million, with more than four million Iraqis uprooted from their homes. The country has been shattered economically and socially – Iraqis continue to lack basic electricity and clean water; unemployment still stands at roughly 30 per cent; disease and malnutrition remain rampant.

On the eve of the invasion, in March 2003, this magazine warned that opponents of the war could only “hope
for a quick end and a painless liberation for Iraq”. If only.

This article first appeared in the 06 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, HOWZAT!