Star-Ledger investigative reporter Banco reveals the complicated conspiracies keeping the richness of Iraqi oil from trickling down to the general populace.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and removal of Saddam Hussein was accompanied by promises that the Iraqi people would share the wealth from the country’s oil. It is no fault of this investigative reporter, who has plenty of experience and contacts in the Middle East, that readers are likely to finish this short book—which reads like a long magazine article—feeling more confused than ever. This is the way that big oil wants it, writes Banco, who shares WikiLeaks documents, tales of familial and tribal infighting, schemes of multinational empire-building, and charges of American perfidy to show that rather than sharing the wealth from oil, the displaced Iraqi citizenry is generally poorer than it was before. As has often been charged, the American invasion in the wake of 9/11 was something of a shell game, using Osama bin Laden as a pretext for the oil ties with which the Bush administration was inextricably bound. The reporting “focuses on what happened behind the scenes between the Kurdish government and international oil companies—negotiations, payouts and kickbacks that exacerbated the plundering of the region’s oil.” Needless to say, these were deals made behind metaphorical closed doors, as the nation has been torn by internal warfare while also fighting terrorism. The only simple aspect of this story is that the people had very high hopes that were dashed. Everything else is complicated, for, as the author suggests, “one explanation for government failure in Iraqi Kurdistan is that government itself isn’t what it seems to be. Here, politics, business and family are inseparable.” The plots thicken under the big foot of multinationals such as ExxonMobil, “the largest non-state oil company on the planet, with about $240 billion in annual revenues.”
Banco’s reportage vividly shows the human toll that deceit and subterfuge have taken on a land so rich in natural resources.