Guide to Understanding the Iraq Mess: “It’s (Still) the Oil, Stupid!”

For some reason, my email inbox has been loaded with Iraq news and analysis today. I am not a student of the Middle East. I follow several journalists I consider reputable in an effort to understand what’s going on over there. Today I was pointed to a new writer whose work I didn’t know before, Michael Schwartz of TomDispatch, whose piece on the background issue in Iraq was picked up by (And while you’re focused on TomDispatch, you may also want to read that alternative-news blogger’s view of Obama on the Iraq situation; it is devastatingly accurate.)

iraq_protestSchwarz, relying heavily on the Iraq Oil Report, an apparently authoritative, subscription-only news source for Iraq developments in English, says this “new” round of “terrorist insurgency” is — and always has been — about nothing more than control of the flow of oil and cash in and through the nation.

Here’s his summary paragraph, which seems to me to pretty well sum up the situation.

The oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein was racked with insurgency, and when vicious repression failed, it delivered a portion of the vast oil revenues to the people in the form of government jobs, social services, and subsidized industries and agriculture. The oppressive United States occupation was racked with insurgency precisely because it tried to harness the country’s vast oil revenues to its imperial designs in the Middle East. The oppressive Maliki regime is now racked with insurgency, because the prime minister refused to share those same vast oil revenues with his Sunni constituents.

The catalog of woes caused by the U.S. during its ill-fated and poorly managed sojourn the last decade is appalling and astonishing. We are largely, though not entirely, to blame for today’s increased insurgence. In our failure to understand the “nation’s patrimony” (i.e., oil) we have completely misunderstood what is going on on the ground in Iraq. Against that backdrop, any new or extended U.S. engagement on the ground in Iraq seems to be clearly folly.

This is an Iraqi problem of long standing. It concerns very directly and gravely the fates of Iraq’s neighboring states. But aside from oil prices, we really have no background, no basis and no business in Iraq. We should therefore quietly shut up.


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