a new context for the communal production, appropriation and distribution of critical knowledge

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Iraq oil and its colonial pre-history

I remembered some years ago talking in class about the US-led plans of privatization in Iraq at the beginning of the Occupation. From what I recall, Bremer even had a timeline for selling off the state-owned oil firm. At the time, it was roundly criticized by neighboring countries (surprise, surprise), and i think the plan was indefinitely delayed. Does anyone know any more about this? I tried looking this up, and there is so little I could find, that I am starting to wonder if I didn't make it all up.


It is worthwhile to use this inquiry by maliha to step back and recall the colonial pre-history of the regime of extraction of oil in Iraq. The story goes all the way back to a late Ottoman entrepreneur Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian who established the Turkish Petroleum Company in 1912 as a consortium of the European oil companies (Royal Dutch, British Shell, Anglo-Persian Oil Company, etc.) for the exploration and the extraction of oil in the Ottoman territories of Iraq. Gulbenkian, since he always retained a five percent of the shares of the oil concessions he organized, was also known as "Mr. Five Per Cent".

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the British took control of the Iraqi territories and in 1929 the Turkish Petroleum Company became the Iraq Petroleum Company. The largest shareholder of the consortium, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company will later (in 1954) change its name to British Petroleum. IPC maintained his monopoly position until 1961 when General Abd al-Karim Qasim nationalized almost all the concession areas in Iraq.

In a recent analysis published in ZNet, Munir Chalabi argues that the new oil law is "the old concessionary model in a new guise" giving all sorts of privileges to International Oil Companies and thereby marginalizing the role of Iraqi National Oil Company.

In the past two weeks, there were a number of protests around the world against International Oil Companies (e.g., against BP in UK and against Chevron in SF) warning them to keep their hands off the Iraqi oil. Indybay.org summarizes the current situation with respect to the new oil law:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsed the draft law February 26, it was approved by the Iraqi cabinet in March, and the law is waiting for a vote in the Iraqi Parliament.

Without doubt, this does not substitute for a comprehensive analysis of the situation. Yet it is useful to keep this historical perspective in mind when trying to make sense of the current reconfiguration of the regime of appropriation and extraction of Iraqi oil.

Saint ymM

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