Sunday, April 22, 2007

Iraqi Oil

An English-language summary of an op-ed piece in Al-Hayat, which cites a recent report by IHS inc. regarding potentially undiscovered oil reserves in Iraq caught my eye today. First off, let me say I treat the report with some healthy skepticism. While I have no expertise whatsoever in the science of the oil industry, I have read enough to know that first-glance estimates of oil reserves often prove to be inflated to say the least. That said, the notion that significant oil may exist in 'Sunni territory' is heartening, though not for quite the same reasons espoused on IraqSlogger.

While I think the oil law wending its way through the Iraqi government is a step in the right direction in terms of handing over control of resources to local governments, the notion that the current US-supported government in Baghdad will be able to set policy in that manner strikes me as a bit far-fetched. The prospect of more evenly-distributed oil resources does seem to open the way towards the kind of loose federal system that increasingly seems to be the only possible positive (ish) conclusion to the madness in Iraq. If the three main ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq feel that they have a measure of economic independence from one another, it may make some kind of peaceful coexistence possible. One key quote by Mohamed Zine caught my eye: "...given a stable political and civil environment, Iraq has the potential to produce four million barrels a day in the near term..." I have long felt that Iraq's oil resources would be difficult to exploit any time in the near future because their uneven distribution would guarantee that political instability would be too high for complex, high-tech oil extraction and distribution infrastructure to operate effectively. If, however, the various sectarian groups could essentially operate their own oil infrastructure (with the Shiites shipping it out of the Gulf, the Sunnis pumping it through Syria and the Kurds pumping it through Turkey), it might provide the basis for separate functioning economies that could provide the necessary environment for a federal system to function. Granted, all of this would be quite a feat given the current grizzly state of affairs in Iraq, but one can always hope.

As for the other bits of Raghida Dirgham's op-ed, I find it interesting that he criticizes Fouad Ajami's 'Shiite victory' discourse as divisive and beneficial to Iraq's enemies by attacking his ethnic roots and calling him, in essence, a self-hating Arab. How does Mr. Dirgham's column not fuel precisely the division he is trying to combat? In any case, as an American armchair blogger who does not even speak Arabic I don't feel qualified to wade too deep into the particulars of an ethnic tiff halfway around the World. Just my initial reaction.

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