The Great Iraq Oil Grab


By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Pentagon planners wanted to name the invasion of Iraq, "Operation Iraqi Liberation." Only when someone realized that the acronym — O.I.L. — might raise some uncomfortable questions, was "Operation Iraqi Freedom" born.

Supporters of the Iraq war airily dismiss chants of "no blood for oil" as a manifestation of the antiwar crowd’s naïveté. They point out that Iraq’s government still controls its oil and argue that we could have simply bought it on the open market.

Both of those claims are true on their face, but bringing Iraq’s vast oil wealth under the control of foreign multinationals — with U.S. firms the best positioned to develop it — was always central to U.S. plans for Iraq. That Iraq’s oil will continue to be "owned" by the "Iraqi people" is what differentiates classical 19th-century colonialism practiced by British officers in pith helmets from the neocolonialism the United States perfected in the second half of the 20th century. The newer brand can be summed up like this: We’ll respect your sovereignty and abide by your domestic laws — as long as we can help you write those laws to guarantee our firms’ profits.

That’s the central tenet of corporate globalization. Trade deals like NAFTA — and the agreements implemented by the WTO — are designed to "harmonize" countries’ domestic laws regulating everything from capital flow to food safety to the environment in order to make them friendly to international investment. In Iraq, that philosophy was taken to an extreme, at gunpoint and with disastrous consequences.

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