Iraq's Liquid Assets

Bush's grand plan to keep control of the oil may have gone to Shiite

Washington, D.C.—The bottom line for Bush in Iraq is who controls the oil. These are the second-biggest oil reserves in the world, and since some of the country is not yet even mapped, Iraq's reserves could turn out to be even bigger than those in Saudi Arabia.

It's no secret that the U.S. wants to take permanent control of the oil. Once having done that, Bush would be in a good position to throw a spanner into OPEC, of which Iraq is an important member. But this may not be as simple as it first appeared to be, because Bush—for the moment anyhow—has thrown his lot in with the Shiite majority.

The Shiites are jostling among themselves and negotiating with the Kurds over who is to rule what. There seems a good possibility that Ibrahim Jaafari of the main Al Dawa group may become prime minister. His main opponent is Ahmed Chalabi, the corrupt businessman who conned the Americans into supporting his Iraqi National Congress and who was the apparent source of phony information on Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction.

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"The cost of maintaining a U.S. military person overseas in Afghanistan or in Iraq is about one-sixteenth of what it costs to maintain an Iraqi or an Afghan." - Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, 2.16.05

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Jaafari has been depicted in the American press as a secular politician, when in fact, as Juan Cole, the University of Michigan history professor, points out, he is anything but secular. The man who was widely expected to be prime minister is Abdul Mahdi, the interim finance minister, but he recently withdrew from consideration, citing the need for unity. Mahdi's candidacy may have been hurt both by his closeness to the Americans, and more important, because he advocated privatizing the nationalized oil industry. The Shiites do not want to give away the oil industry to a bunch of foreigners. As for his supposed secularism, Jaafari told the Associated Press, "Islam should be the official religion of the country, and one of the main sources for legislation, along with other sources that do not harm Muslim sensibilities . . . "

"Although he also says he is for the right of women to work in the professions and hold high political offices, many in his party want women's testimony to be worth half that of a man's and want girls to inherit half what their brothers do," writes Cole in his blog, juancole.com.

Jaafari doesn't support a timetable for U.S. departure, but he does support bringing the anti-American Muqtada al-Sadr into the new government.


Trusting in Spitzer
New York's A.G. appears to mean business for the Dems in 2008

While this city's reporters continue to whine on about why they don't like Howard Dean while feebly raising the prospect of a presidential run by John Edwards, a new Democratic political hero begins to emerge.

His name is Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York, who is often viewed by professional politicians as the next likely governor of the state and sooner or later a presidential candidate. Just who is Spitzer? At a packed National Press Club appearance recently, the attorney general came on as a new Teddy Roosevelt, the legendary tamer of trusts. Spitzer already has won victories against investment bankers, the mutual fund industry, drug companies, and the insurance industry. He has even been asked to take a fresh look at 9-11.

Recalling Teddy Roosevelt's stance of 100 years ago, Spitzer told his audience, "What we have on one side is a business leadership that cloaks itself in the language of the free market, but really wants to preserve an ossified system, and they want to act against those who really support competition, transparency, and integrity." This is a message that Democratic politicians have shied clear of issuing, save during moments of desperation.

Of course, there is another way to look at TR, and that is as a president who made possible the rise of the modern business conglomerate, putting down small holders in favor of supposedly more efficient large-scale industrial enterprises. It can be argued that TR's efficiency ideas resulted in some of the worst environmental nightmares of the 20th century, as mining, timber, and railroad giants laid waste to the continent.


Unbreakable China
U.S. imperial ambitions aside, our economy is slipping behind

Those critics who insist that the American empire is the root of all evil might consider the possibility that the U.S. imperial state is declining, not growing.

There are numerous signs: The euro bests the dollar. The U.S., for the first time in years, is a net importer of food. And we increasingly depend upon investment by other nations to sustain our lifestyle.

Racing to replace us as the world leader with the most dynamic economy is China. Currently the Chinese have outpaced the U.S. as the largest consumer of resources.

"Among the five basic food, energy, and industrial commodities—grain and meat, oil and coal, and steel—consumption in China has already eclipsed that of the United States in all but oil," writes Lester R. Brown in a new Earth Policy Institute study. "China has opened a wide lead with grain: 382 million tons to 278 million tons for the United States last year. Among the big three grains, the world's most populous country leads in the consumption of both wheat and rice, and trails the United States only in corn use."

The statistics are impressive: China outeats us in meat, 64 million tons to 38 million. Most of China's meat is pork. The country has half the pig population of the world. With the native fish population in the world's oceans declining, aquaculture, or fish farming, is taking over the provisioning of fish all across the world. And here the Chinese once again are the leaders.

The Chinese use more than twice as much steel as we do. In addition to steel, China uses more aluminum and copper; we're a distant second. China is also a major producer of zinc and lead. We are still well ahead of China in the consumption of oil: 20.4 million barrels a day to 6.5 million. But China's consumption has doubled and now ranks second to the U.S., surpassing Japan. More coal is burned in China than in the U.S.: 800 million tons to 574 million tons. It pumps far more chemical fertilizer onto its crops than we do. It is a major provider of cotton.

China is also a major and notorious producer of human body parts. The country is best known for selling eyes, kidneys, skin, and other parts of prisoners after they are killed—and sometimes even harvesting parts before the people are actually dead. The Chinese lead the world in the production of fine human hair, which because of various types of extensions is once again a booming business.

In 1996, China had 7 million cell phones and the United States had 44 million, notes Brown. By 2003 China had 269 million, versus 159 million in the United States. In effect, China is leapfrogging the traditional landline telephone stage of communications development, going directly to mobile phones.

The rapidly growing Chinese economy is causing the reorganization of the world's resource industries, most of which were first organized during the industrial revolution of the 19th century by the British, French, and other European powers to feed raw materials from colonies to factories and consumers in the growing cities of Europe.

While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq occupy the headlines, the Chinese have been steadily building up their own lines of supply of oil, and more important, pollution-free natural gas. As a result, substantial portions of the recently developed oil and gas supplies of Central Asia and of the Arab oil producers will be heading east, not west, across the Indian Ocean.

The rise of China can be a danger sign for the U.S. Its big trade surplus with the U.S. and high domestic savings rates are indications of economic strength, and make it possible for China, along with Japan, to buy U.S. securities, which, as Brown points out, allows the U.S. to run the largest budget deficits in its history. So far, so good. But if China should decide to re-channel its investments into, say, long-term contracts for natural resources in, say, West Africa, where there are new oil finds, or Central Asia or Latin America, the U.S. economy could be in grave trouble.


Additional reporting: David Botti and Nicole Duarte


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