It was all about the oil: A Chinese view as curtain closes on Iraq war

After nearly nine years, the war in Iraq has officially ended. Its effects can of course be calculated in the heavy human toll, but the war has also left a lasting imprint on both global affairs and across America’s political landscape.

When people feel the effects of high oil prices, they should remember that it was the breakout and ongoing stalemate of the Iraq war that prompted petrol costs to soar. One could even connect those skyrocketing energy prices to the financial crisis of today.

Years ago, scholars had already warned that the exploitation of petrol was going to extend to remote and unstable regions of the globe. This had long created concerns in the US, and was part of the motivation for America’s attack on Iraq.

Already in 2001, the White House declared that the US could not risk the impact of Iraq’s instability on the oil market; and that military intervention might very well be necessary.

The fact is plain that President George W. Bush had drawn up his black list of nations that included mostly major oil exporters such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. Whether it was his early passion for better relations with Russia, stationing soldiers in Afghanistan or sending troops to the Middle East, the most important starting point was always the oil and gas.

Prior to the Iraq War, The Nation, an American left wing weekly, had already declared that an invasion would be an “oil war.” American military lives would be lost for this prize, and an even higher cost was paid by the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens.

Since all lies have been exposed, the fact that the Iraq War was an energy war is no longer a secret. Although under President Bush’s administration the link to energy was denied, it was but the “Emperor’s new clothes”.

The negative effects this brought are two-fold. On one hand, it stimulated the anti-American forces in Iraq, and on the other hand, it reminded other countries to commit themselves to focus ever more of their attention to energy security. This in turn required ever more delicate international relations, and objectively also pushed up oil prices. Not coincidentally, after the war started, oil producers like Iran and Venezuela both chose to stand in opposition to America. All of these effects added up in rising prices for oil.

US propaganda claimed at first that the Iraq War was launched to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction, while the argument later turned to the defense of democracy and prosperity. What we know now is that this country, with the second biggest oil reserves, is still facing chaos and unrest, and its oil production has yet to recover to its pre-war level.

Speculators love emergency

Between the start of the war in 2003 and the end of the Bush administration, international oil prices multiplied six-fold, while Iraq’s production dropped from 2.6 million barrels to 1.1 million per day.

An unnecessary war buried Saddam, but left the oil speculators in seventh heaven. High oil prices have brought the Exxon Mobil Corporation, the Texan energy giant, huge profits. Its operating profit soared from $30 billion to $200 billion within six years. American petroleum companies took away most of Iraq’s exploitation rights. It’s not until the latter half of President Bush’s second term that other countries were allowed in.

The reality proves that in any geopolitical crisis, there’s always someone who is profiting. International speculators love emergencies. The rest of us are left to face the drop in output, and rise in oil prices that fuel inflation across the economy.

There’s another side effect as well: the Bush administration’s rush decision to launch the Iraq War instead of concentrating its energy in combating al-Qaeda and finishing the war in Afghanistan. It took until last May to finally track down and kill Bin Laden. In the meantime, this international terrorist network had time to re-establish itself, and allowed the Taliban to reemerge in Afghanistan, where the war indeed continues.

This look back at Iraq should give caution for those considering starting a war in Syria or Iran. If a war was to be launched in Syria or the US and Israel was to attack Iran, the Gulf Region will be plunged into a great dilemma. The plague of uncertainty would again make oil prices soar, and hopes for a global economic recovery would quickly dim.

Among its many lessons, the Iraq War has taught us that however easy it is to start a way, ending one is much harder.