[Marxism] Two views on Iraq, oil, and imperialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 15 07:35:04 MDT 2012


Alexander Cockburn:
If this really was a “war for oil,” it scarcely went well for the
United States.

Run your eye down the list of contracts the Iraqi government
awarded in June and December 2009. Prominent is Russia’s Lukoil,
which, in partnership with Norway’s Statoil, won the rights to
West Qurna Phase Two, a 12.9 billion–barrel supergiant oilfield.
Other successful bidders for fixed-term contracts included
Russia’s Gazprom and Malaysia’s Petronas. Only two US-based oil
companies came away with contracts: ExxonMobil partnered with
Royal Dutch Shell on a contract for West Qurna Phase One (8.7
billion barrels in reserves); and Occidental shares a contract in
the Zubair field (4 billion barrels), in company with Italy’s ENI
and South Korea’s Kogas. The huge Rumaila field (17 billion
barrels) yielded a contract for BP and the China National
Petroleum Company, and Royal Dutch Shell split the 12.6
billion–barrel Majnoon field with Petronas, 60-40.




Shock-and-Awe Nation Building: Iraq's Neo-Liberal Reconstruction
May 14 2012 by Haytham Bahoora

The Iraqi government’s contractual delivery of Iraqi oil fields to 
foreign multinationals is perhaps the most consequential long-term 
economic consequence of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. 
Contracts have been signed, production rights to massive oil 
fields sold, and a steady stream of propaganda disseminated about 
Iraqi oil production eventually rivaling that of Saudi Arabia and 
Iran. The celebratory narrative of Iraq’s expanding oil production 
has been marketed as an essential component of Iraq’s 
re-integration into a world economic system that will, we are 
told, become increasingly dependent on Iraqi oil, much of it 
waiting to be tapped.

The de-nationalization of Iraq’s public wealth has been presented 
to the Iraqi public as a necessity due to Iraq’s destroyed 
infrastructure and lack of technical expertise after decades of 
war and economic sanctions, sanctions that are widely recognized 
to have “de-developed” Iraq. But what does this vision of Iraq’s 
privatized petro-future, the reversal of decades of social policy 
predicated on a nationalized public good, portend for Iraq’s 
people and their livelihoods? And how will reconstruction and 
“development” proceed in the context of foreign multinationals 
playing a dominant role in the context of the collapse and 
fragmentation of the Iraqi state?

If Iraq’s 1958 anti-colonial revolution had national independence 
as its official aim, the most significant economic component of 
the nation’s post-colonial independence meant ending foreign 
control over Iraq’s natural resources and a redistribution of 
wealth—something almost all of Iraq’s disparate political groups 
could agree upon. The current Iraqi government’s rhetoric of 
national development, reconstruction, and future prosperity is 
dependent on the expansion of oil production and the increases in 
revenues it brings, and as oil production steadily increases, it 
has signed numerous contracts with the stated purpose of 
reconstructing Iraq’s public infrastructure, including plans to 
build tens of thousands of new housing units throughout the 
nation, including the construction of satellite cities in Baghdad 
and Basra.

The Iraqi government’s national development plans today have much 
in common with mid-century modernization projects in the 
post-colonial world, projects defined by central government 
control, top-down planning, the absence of transparency in their 
planning and execution, and commissions awarded to foreign 
multi-nationals. The difference for Iraq today is that its 
re-integration into a neo-liberal world economy occurs under the 
aegis of an exceptionally weak, corrupt, and fractured central 
government that lacks the authority to provide even basic security 
and public services to its population. Under such conditions, 
multi-billion dollar development projects awarded to foreign 
multinationals represent not only the neo-liberal, shock-and-awe 
economic colonization of Iraq, but will have dramatic consequences 
for the spatial and material organization of Iraq’s population and 
the spaces they inhabit, a population that has already in the past 
decade experienced a massively disruptive re-ordering and 
re-distribution based on sectarian affiliation.

And yet the Iraqi government, despite its inability to provide 
basic services, continues to announce one grandiose project after 
another, perhaps hoping that the promise of future prosperity will 
somehow ameliorate dissatisfaction with the dismal present. Such 
promises of national development linked to expanding oil 
production are not new for Iraq. In the 1950s, similar rhetoric 
accompanied the Iraqi monarchy’s ambitious, concerted development 
plan for the nation, led by the Iraq Development Board, that 
sought to modernize Iraq’s cities and infrastructure, and by 
extension, its people. One of the main sources of anxiety for the 
Iraqi monarchy and its British and American advisors, eager to 
prevent Iraq from coming under the influence of the Soviet Union 
in light of the growing strength of the Iraqi Communist Party, was 
the presence of slums on the outskirts of Baghdad, inhabited by 
Shurug, or Sharagwa, a pejorative term originally used to describe 
peasants from the rice growing regions of southern Iraq centered 
around the city of ‘Amarah who had migrated to Baghdad in the 
thousands and built mud huts, sarifas, in the eastern part of the 

Their migration to Baghdad was principally caused by British land 
tenure policy, which granted increased power to tribal shaykhs in 
exchange for their loyalty, thereby transforming Iraqi peasants 
into veritable slave laborers on land they had worked for 
centuries. More than the draw of city jobs and city life, the 
disruptive reorganization of the rural economy in the service of 
colonial interests motivated their rural to urban migration. For 
an Iraqi government intent on displaying to the world and to its 
citizens that it was modernizing, the presence of impoverished 
peasants living in mud huts on the outskirts of Baghdad and 
increasingly crowded in apartments in the city center necessitated 
some form of intervention, which would take shape in the 
“slum-clearance” programs, a synonym for forced relocation, that 
were implemented by the state. The threat Baghdad’s urban poor 
posed to the political order of the city was a constant source of 
anxiety for the monarchy, often expressed officially through fear 
of violence, contamination, and disease that the Shurug would 
spread in the city.

And yet the monarchy took little action to ameliorate the 
conditions suffered by the urban poor. The monarchy’s development 
plans were instead highlighted by signature architectural projects 
commissioned from world-renowned modernist architects including 
Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Alvaar Alto, Frank Lloyd Wright, and 
Gio Ponti, among others. The involvement of these architects in 
shaping the material composition of a distant, non-European city 
heralded the rise of the global architect as a commodity, 
foreshadowing the way that buildings by “international” (i.e., 
“Western”) architects would have the power to create their own 
tourist industries and would become sites of pilgrimage by 
well-heeled tourists. Architects with international fame suddenly 
had the power to design projects that would attract the world’s 
attention to any city in the world, and could help a city like 
Baghdad, non-Western and “under-developed,” enter the Western 
narrative of a cosmopolitan modernity.

Though much attention has been given to these high-profile 
projects whose goal was ostensibly to put Baghdad on the world map 
as a modern, cosmopolitan city, a process today replicated by 
architectural projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the mid 
20th-century urban landscape of Baghdad was altered far more 
dramatically by the master plan for the city developed by the 
cold-war urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis, author of the 
“slum-clearing” programs, who sought to implement in Baghdad his 
high-modernist vision of using urban planning to fashion new 
citizens who embraced the free-market and liberal values of the 
West.  After the 1958 coup d’etat that ended the rule of Iraq’s 
Hashemite monarchy, the nationalist government of ‘Abd al-Karim 
Qassem dismantled the Iraq Development Board and formed the 
Ministry of Planning, which rapidly constructed Revolution City 
(Madinat al-Thawra) to house the thousands of impoverished Iraqis 
living in sarifas throughout Baghdad. The plan for Revolution City 
was based on the urban master plan for Baghdad crafted by Doxiadis 
and an extension of housing developments he designed in the 
northeast of the city.

Revolution City was built as a city within a city, self-contained, 
effectively exiling Baghdad’s impoverished peasants far outside 
the city center to the northeast in an enclosed space. Encased in 
an urban grid and separated into sectors, with low-lying buildings 
and wide avenues, the physical layout of Revolution City resulted 
in the increased ability of the state for surveillance and control 
of what was regarded as a threatening population, not only 
politically, but also to the social and economic order of the 
city. Revolution City, whose inhabitants were predominantly Shi’a, 
would later be named Saddam City, and after the US invasion of 
Iraq, Sadr City. Media reports consistently refer to Sadr City as 
a “sprawling slum,” meant to signify a generic Third World 
slum—chaotic, unstable, lacking order and stability, impoverished 
and undisciplined, and ultimately threatening—despite its 
historical origins as a planned city meant to embody and produce 
order and instrumentalized rationalism. Sadr City is today a 
monument to the failed high-modernist 20th century social 
engineering projects designed for the urban poor throughout the 

Mid-20th century architecture and urban planning projects like 
Sadr City were part of a much larger historical process 
exemplifying the intersection of development ideology, modernist 
architecture, and urban planning. For Iraq today, despite 
increased revenues from oil production, political instability and 
violence have limited the extent to which massive urban planning 
projects have been implemented, though this may change in the near 
future. The current Iraqi government has signed contracts with 
South Korean and Turkish firms to build thousands of housing units 
throughout Iraq, including a city of one hundred thousand units to 
be developed near Basra, a massive reconstruction of Sadr City, 
and a satellite city of 100,000 new homes southeast of Baghdad.

If Sadr City was conceived of as a strong central government’s 
top-down solution to the problems of urban poverty, today Iraq is 
set to embark upon the neo-liberal model for the satellite city, 
replicating projects already built on the outskirts of cities like 
Cairo and Istanbul, designed not for the poor but for the 
upper-middle classes. As many scholars have observed, these 
satellite cities exist at the expense of the central city, 
suctioning away financial and natural resources from the historic 
center and disseminating them to the periphery, widening social, 
political, and cultural divisions. For Baghdad, a city in 
desperate need of reconstruction, projects like the Besmaya 
project are an extreme representation of the triumph of 
neo-liberal urban planning and, ultimately, the failure of Iraq’s 
regime to rebuild Iraq’s shattered cities. The neo-liberal 
satellite city represents an American-style suburban escape for 
the Iraqi elite: The low-density model of sprawl—wide streets, 
massive lawns, and low-density—is unsustainable, requiring 
infrastructural and natural resources that are, in Iraq, 
increasingly scarce. Despite the well-established critiques of the 
negative impact such development projects have on cities, on 
social cohesion, and on the environment, what Besmaya represents 
is the further “opening” of Iraq to speculative multinational 
capitalism and, if implemented, the material re-organization of 
its spaces and people based on a neo-liberal logic.

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