British And Australian Forces Build Oil-Protection Base In Iraq
By Patrick Martin
13 November, 2007
The US Navy, with the assistance
of British and Australian commandos, is building a permanent base to
guard two oil-export platforms in Iraqi waters at the northern end of
the Persian Gulf, according to a report
Monday in the Wall Street Journal.
Troops from all three occupying
countries are now stationed at the Khawr al Amaya oil terminal, protecting
it and the neighboring Al Basrah oil terminal, facilities critical for
any significant expansion of tanker shipments of Iraqi oil to the world
The Journal reported, “While
presidential candidates debate whether to start bringing ground troops
home from Iraq, the new construction suggests that one footprint of
U.S. military power in Iraq isn’t shrinking anytime soon: American
officials are girding for an open-ended commitment to protect the country’s
“The military mission
goes far beyond the patrols which US warships have conducted in the
Persian Gulf for the past 30 years, in the name of keeping oil shipping
lanes open.” The Journal noted, “the Navy finds itself with
an additional, much more specific role: playing security guard to Iraq’s
offshore oil infrastructure.”
The current focus of military
construction is a command-and-control facility located on top of the
Khawr facility, the smaller of the two.
While the Pentagon claims
that the new oil-terminal base is not a permanent US facility and that
it will be turned over to Iraqi forces eventually, the Journal explains,
“Iraqi forces are a long way from being able to take over the
mission.” Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, commander of US naval forces
in the Gulf, told the newspaper, “They are going to need help
for years to come.”
US, British and Australian
military officers will control Iraq’s oil export shipping for
the indefinite future. US sailors live on both the Khawr and Al Basrah
terminals behind chain-link fences that keep out all Iraqis except the
oil workers who actually operate the facilities, and a handful of Iraqi
Marines who work as guards under the direction of an Australian commodore,
the overall commander of the facility.
The Journal account also
notes that the oil-export installation could play a role in forthcoming
US moves against Iran: “The new outpost also offers a convenient
perch from which to monitor Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps...
The naval component of the Revolutionary Guards Corps operates from
a partially submerged barge and crane visible on clear days.”
The British sailors captured
earlier this year by Iranian forces were among those participating in
the oil-protection mission—a fact that was suppressed in the media
accounts at the time. That incident ended when the British prisoners
made statements admitting they had crossed into Iranian waters and then
were sent home. A similar episode involving American soldiers could
well provide a pretext for a full-scale US military strike against Iran.
The oil-terminal operation
is only one part of a much larger program, costing an estimated $277
million, in which US forces are deployed to protect Iraqi oilfields.
The terminal facilities are the only ones where US military personnel
are actually stationed inside production or shipping installations.
The Khawr and Al Basrah facilities
combined, if working at their capacity, could load nearly two million
barrels a day, about 2.4 percent of current world requirements.
Vice Admiral Cosgriff told
the Journal, “As a contributor to an increasingly inelastic supply,
that is a significant percentage. That isn’t just an Iraq issue,
that’s a global economic-stability issue.”
This comment underscores
the geopolitical economic interests at the heart of the US conquest
of Iraq. US policymakers, from the military leaders on the spot right
up to the White House, are acutely aware that, as former Federal Reserve
chairman Alan Greenspan said last month, the war in Iraq is “all
Nonetheless, the White House,
the congressional Democrats and the American news media alike seek to
downplay or suppress the role of oil, claiming that the war is being
waged to fight “terrorism” and establish democracy in Iraq,
when its major purpose is to rob the Iraqi people of their country’s
principal natural resource, and give US and British multinationals first
crack at the world’s third largest oil reserves.
The struggle for control
and development of these resources is becoming increasingly public,
despite the official effort to deny the predatory character of the American
Iraq’s former oil minister,
Thamir Ghadhban, who still advises the government of Iraqi Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki on energy issues, told a US audience Friday that Iraq
planned to nearly triple oil production over the next eight years, from
the present 2.2 million barrels a day to six million barrels per day.
Speaking at Stanford University,
Ghadhban said, “Iraq is one of the least-explored countries among
the major oil producers,” citing plans to explore for oil in the
western desert (Anbar province) as well as the traditional oil-producing
regions in the north and south. Iraq has 112 billion barrels in proven
oil reserves, but UN estimates have placed its probable but as yet unproven
reserves at 214 billion barrels, perhaps the world’s largest pool
of untapped oil.
The oil ministry reported
last week that daily crude oil production in October hit a three-year
high of 2.7 million barrels a day, of which 1.8 million barrels were
exported. Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, said that crude
production should reach 3 million barrels daily by the end of the year.
The carve-up of oil territory
continues within the country. The national government signed a short-term
contract November 8 with the Turkish refiner Tupras to take 60,000 barrels
a day from the Kirkuk oil fields, shipped by pipeline through the Turkish
port of Ceyhan. It was the first new contract for Kirkuk crude in more
than three years. The state oil ministry has invited 16 European and
American oil companies to bid for three-month contracts to lift crude
from Kirkuk, and some bids have already been received.
The Kurdistan regional government
announced another round of production-sharing contracts, including one
with Reliance Industries, an Indian firm, which paid a signing bonus
of $15.5 million to $17.5 million for exploration contracts for two
sites in the Kurdish-ruled provinces in the north of Iraq.
The federal Iraqi government
has denounced the Kurdish deals as violations of national sovereignty.
The mounting conflict between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government
is facing multiple flashpoints, including a referendum, due to be held
by the end of 2007, to decide whether the city of Kirkuk, at the center
of one of the world’s largest oilfields, should be attached to
the Kurdish-controlled region.
The city and province of
Kirkuk have a mixed population of Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs and
Turkomen, but the Kurdish parties have been resettling Kurds there in
an effort to create a majority, a mirror reversal of the policy pursued
by Saddam Hussein, who pushed Kurds out and sought “Arabization”
of the province.
Perhaps the most provocative
action taken in the tense region came in September, when Ray Hunt, CEO
of Hunt Oil and a longtime Texas confidant of the Bush family, flew
into Kurdistan and signed an oil exploration agreement with the regional
government, without informing Baghdad.
According to a report
in the Dallas Morning News, the hill of Jebel Semroot, near the village
of Assyan, where Hunt Oil expects to begin drilling next year, is not
even in the territory of the three Kurdish provinces ruled by the regional
government. It lies across the border in Nineveh, another province with
a mixed population of Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs, in which the Kurds
are a distinct minority.
“Trouble is, Jebel
Semroot isn’t in Kurdish territory,” the News reported.
“If Hunt Oil drills in these rocks, the company will be helping
the Kurds absorb lands in Nineveh province that were historically Kurdish
but are still claimed by Iraq’s Arab Sunnis.”
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