Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Michael Klare, Peak Oil and the Remaking of Iraq

Anthony Shadid has, without a doubt, been the finest American mainstream journalist to cover Iraq in the period after the 2003 invasion. He's now back in Baghdad for the Washington Post, telling the saddest story of all ("In the City of Cement"). Here's part of what he wrote just after American troops largely withdrew to the outskirts of town:

"Augustus boasted that he found Rome a city of bricks and made it a city of marble. Baghdad was another city of bricks, and a coterie of American generals turned it into a city of cement. Their concrete is everywhere -- from the sprawling Green Zone to the barriers and blast walls that line almost every street -- reorienting the physical, spiritual and social geography that for more than a millennium was dictated by the lazy bends in the Tigris River.

"In time, though, those walls may matter less than the deeper forces that six years of an American presence hastened. Baghdad is now a city divided from itself. Shiite neighborhoods rarely have Sunnis. Sunni ones, far less numerous today, no longer have Shiites. Christians have all but left. Potentates seek refuge in fortresses, and the poor fend for themselves... The Americans created none of it, but facilitated all of it, giving space to the region's worst impulses."

In what follows, Michael Klare, energy expert and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, offers another, quite different version of this same sad tale: what if, after all the sound and fury, what happened really did signify next to nothing, despite the devastation of Iraq and the loss of so many lives? What if the new Iraq is now fated to be, as Klare suggests, just another service station at a rest stop on the global road to... well, where? Tom

Will Iraq Be a Global Gas Pump?

The (Re)Making of a Petro-State
By Michael T. Klare

Has it all come to this? The wars and invasions, the death and destruction, the exile and torture, the resistance and collapse? In a world of shrinking energy reserves, is Iraq finally fated to become what it was going to be anyway, even before the chaos and catastrophe set in: a giant gas pump for an energy-starved planet? Will it all end not with a bang, but with a gusher? The latest oil news out of that country offers at least a hint of Iraq's fate.

For modern Iraq, oil has always been at the heart of everything. Its very existence as a unified state is largely the product of oil.

In 1920, under the aegis of the League of Nations, Britain cobbled together the Kingdom of Iraq from the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in order to better exploit the holdings of the Turkish Petroleum Company, forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Later, Iraqi nationalists and the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein nationalized the IPC, provoking unrelenting British and American hostility. Hussein rewarded his Sunni allies in the Baath Party by giving them lucrative positions in the state company, part of a process that produced a dangerous rift with the country's Shiite majority. And these are but a few of the ways in which modern Iraqi history has been governed by oil.

Iraq is, of course, one of the world's great hydrocarbon preserves. According to oil giant BP, it harbors proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels -- more than any country except Saudi Arabia (with 264 billion barrels) and Iran (with 138 billion). Many analysts, however, believe that Iraq has been inadequately explored, and that the utilization of modern search technologies will yield additional reserves in the range of 45 to 100 billion barrels. If all its reserves, known and suspected, were developed to their full potential, Iraq could add as much as six to eight million barrels per day to international output, postponing the inevitable arrival of peak oil and a contraction in global energy supplies.

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