Global Policy Forum:

Having defeated and overthrown the government of Saddam Hussein in March 2003, the US assumed control over Iraq as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). While the CPA maintained a near-monopoly of political authority for the first year, unrest and resistance pressed the occupiers to cede more power, at least symbolically, to the Iraqis. In June 2004, the US announced that it had “transferred sovereignty” to a newly-formed Interim Government. This was followed by elections in January 2005, in which some 8 million Iraqis voted. The vote, however, was criticized for its lack of Sunni participation and an absence of international observers, and the Iraqi insurgency shows no signs of dying down. Though nominally a “sovereign” state, the presence of 150,000 US troops leaves little question as to who controls the country.

The occupation has proven extremely violent, with thousands of US casualties and as many as 600,000 or more Iraqis dead and wounded. It has been stained by torture, massive use of force against civilian neighborhoods and other cruel and despotic methods that recall some of the worst moments of Western colonialism in the region.

Permanent bases
Since 2003, the US has been building long-term military bases in Iraq and a mammoth embassy complex in Baghdad. Although Washington refuses to acknowledge that the bases are permanent, the billions of dollars spent on these projects suggest that the US sees Iraq as a client state. While most of Iraqis has no access to basic necessities, the bases are provided with their own water and electricity, restaurants, swimming pools and movie theaters. The huge US embassy covers an area larger than Vatican City and Iraqis see it as an “arrogant” enterprise that aims to show US “superiority.” The US Congress opposes the base project and has rejected the spending of funds for this purpose. But the building goes on.

Oil in Iraq
Iraq has the world’s second largest proven oil reserves. According to oil industry experts, new exploration will probably raise Iraq’s reserves to 200+ billion barrels of high-grade crude, extraordinarily cheap to produce. The four giant firms located in the US and the UK have been keen to get back into Iraq, from which they were excluded with the nationalization of 1972. During the final years of the Saddam era, they envied companies from France, Russia, China, and elsewhere, who had obtained major contracts. But UN sanctions (kept in place by the US and the UK) kept those contracts inoperable. Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, everything has changed. In the new setting, with Washington running the show, “friendly” companies expect to gain most of the lucrative oil deals that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in profits in the coming decades. The new Iraqi constitution of 2005, greatly influenced by US advisors, contains language that guarantees a major role for foreign companies. Negotiators hope soon to complete deals on Production Sharing Agreements that will give the companies control over dozens of fields, including the fabled super-giant Majnoon. However, despite pressure from the US government and foreign oil companies, the current Iraqi government has not passed a national oil law. While regional governments angle for influence over the foreign oil contracts, most Iraqis favor continued control by a national company and the powerful oil workers union opposes de-nationalization. Iraq’s political future is very much in flux, but oil remains the central feature of the political landscape.



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