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Iraqi hydrocarbon prize of U.S. invasion in danger

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Excluding "boots on the ground" and leaving combat missions to local and regional "partners," President Barak Obama and his administration say the United States keeps "all options on the table" to respond militarily to the terrorists' threat to "American interests" in Iraq, which are now in "danger."

Similarly, former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on TV screens and in print has recently urged western governments to "put aside the differences of the past and act now" and to intervene militarily in Iraq "to save the future" because "we do have interests in this."

Both men refrained from indicating what are exactly the "American" and "western" interests in Iraq that need military intervention to defend, but the major prize of their invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the country's hydrocarbon assets. There lies their "interests.

On June 13 however, Obama hinted to a possible major "disruption" in Iraqi oil output and urged "other producers in the Gulf" to be "able to pick up the slack."

The United States has already moved the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, from the northern Arabian Sea into the Arabian Gulf (Persian according to Iran) "to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq," according to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, on June 14. Media is reporting that U.S. intelligence units and air reconnaissance are already operating in Iraq.

The unfolding collapse of the U.S. proxy government in Baghdad has cut short a process of legalizing the de-nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry in Iraq, which became within reach with the latest electoral victory of the Iraqi prime minister since 2006, Noori al-Maliki.

Anti-American armed resistance to the U.S. proxy ruling regime in Baghdad, especially the Baath-led backbone, is on record as seeking to return to the status quo ante with regard to the country's strategic hydrocarbon assets, i.e. nationalization.

De-nationalization and privatization of the Iraqi oil and gas industry began with the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Al-Maliki for eight years could not pass a hydrocarbons law through the parliament. Popular opposition and a political system based on sectarian distribution of power and "federal" distribution of oil revenues blocked its adoption. Ruling by political majority instead by sectarian consensus was al-Maliki's declared hope to enact the law.

Al-Maliki's plans towards this end together with his political ambitions for a third term were cut short by the fall to armed opposition on this June 10 of Mosul, the capital of the northern Ninawa governorate and second only to Baghdad as Iraq's largest metropolitan area.

Three days on, with the fighting moving on to the gates of Baghdad, "the most important priority for Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure," a Stratfor analysis on June 11 concluded.

The raging war in Iraq now will determine whether Iraqi hydrocarbons are a national asset or multinational loot. Any U.S. military support to the regime it installed in Baghdad should be viewed within this context. Meanwhile this national wealth is still being pillaged as spoils of war.

Al-Maliki is not now preoccupied even with maintaining Iraq as OPEC's No. 2 oil producer, but with maintaining a level of oil output sufficient to bring in enough revenues to finance a defensive war that left his capital besieged and his government with southern Iraq only to rule, may be not for too long.

Even this modest goal is in doubt. Al-Maliki is left with oil exports from the south only, the disruption of which is highly possible any time now.

Worries that fighting would spread to the southern city of Basra or Baghdad have already sent oil prices to nine-month high on Thursday.

Legalizing the de-nationalization of Iraqi hydrocarbon industry has thus become more elusive than it has ever been since 2003.

On June 1 forty two years ago the process of the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry kicked off in Iraq. Now Iraq is an open field for looting its only strategic asset.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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