It’s long been argued that oil was a key reason behind the Iraq war. Western multinationals are central in this campaign but, as the New York Times reports today, we shouldn’t forget the role of the leading Communist nation:
When China’s biggest oil company signed the first post-invasion oil field development contract in Iraq last year, the deal was seen as a test of Iraq’s willingness to open an industry that had previously prohibited foreign investment.
One year later, the China National Petroleum Corporation has struck oil at the Ahdab field in Wasit Province, southeast of Baghdad. And while the relationship between the company and the Iraqi government has gone smoothly, the presence of a foreign company with vast resources drilling for oil in this poor, rural corner of Iraq has awakened a wave of discontent here.
“We get nothing directly from the Chinese company, and we are suffering,” said Mahmoud Abdul Ridha, head of the Wasit provincial council, whose budget has been cut in half by Baghdad in the past year because of lower international oil prices. “There is an unemployment crisis. We need roads, schools, water treatment plants. We need everything.”
The result has been a local-rights movement — extraordinary in a country where political dissent has historically carried the risk of death — that in the past few months has begun demanding that at least $1 of each barrel of oil produced at the Ahdab field be used to improve access to clean water, health services, schools, paved roads and other needs in the province, which is among Iraq’s poorest.
The ripples are traveling far beyond this province, too. Frustrations have spilled over into sabotage and intimidation of Chinese oil workers, turning the Ahdab field into a cautionary tale for international oil companies seeking to join the rush to profit from Iraq’s vast untapped oil reserves.