By RAZ JABARY
A sea of oil and yet no ships to sail on. As we are approaching 2011, Iraqi oil refineries are still greatly lacking in number to process the crude oil from underneath its own soil.
Just to illustrate the importance of oil in Iraq; the only Ministry building immediately secured by US forces on their arrival in Baghdad after the 2003 invasion was the oil-Ministry, whilst the others were left unguarded and ‘free to loot’; one of the main controversy points over recent years between the Central Iraqi Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil has been the issue of who authorizes the granting of contracts to foreign oil companies within the Kurdistan Region; an astonishing 98% of the country’s national revenues is generated by the sale and export of its golden liquid, an astounding piece of information difficult to comprehend after experiencing the arrival of an innumerable number of foreign companies from outside the oil sector and the recent rapid growth experienced in the agricultural sector with the establishment of many greenhouses on the outskirts of various municipalities.
Yet despite the grave importance of this sector and its overdependence by the Iraqi people, the organization and the smooth running of its elements seem farfetched; Kirkuk, the city delivering almost half of Iraq’s oil exports, still experiences daily traffic queues of many miles for petrol stations; in response, faulty self-made petrol is high in demand on the black market, excessive use of which may bring harm to vehicle engines; due to the lack of a sufficient number of oil refineries within Iraq itself, refined oil is still arriving from Turkey in return for crude oil, a deal dating back to the pre-2003 invasion of the country.
Sensitivity among the authorities plays a role in Iraq’s oil matters to such an extent that it leads to suspicion among the public. In a Chatham House session hosting President of the KRG Massoud Barzani in London on 12 March 2009 to which I was invited, a New York Times journalist forwarded the question of exactly how many barrels of oil each day the KRG was delivering. The President refused to answer, referring the journalist to the also present Ashti Hawrami, KRG Minister of Natural Resources. The journalist never got his reply throughout the session.
To add to this, there is still a great factor of unknown to the public concerning oil matters. In my meeting with a former Iraqi oil giant CEO in Sulaimaniyah on 6 August 2010, he claimed that Iraq – and not Saudi Arabia – is unofficially first in its amount of oil reserves. Whether he is unofficially right or wrong only adds to the unknown complexity that the Iraqi oil industry has already proven to be.
Raz Jabary is student at Imperial College London and Vice-Chairman of the University’s Political Philosophy Society (ICU PPS).