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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Trump Burning Bridges In Iraq Over “Take The Oil” Comments

Donald Trump

“The old expression, ‘to the victor belong the spoils’—you remember. I always used to say, keep the oil. I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong…we should have kept the oil.”

Those were President Trump’s comments at the CIA the day after his inauguration in January. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that the U.S. should have “taken Iraq’s oil,” an argument that he revisited as recently as last week. “We’ve spent $6 trillion…in the Middle East,” President Trump said during a meeting with airline executives at the White House on February 9. “We’ve got nothing. We’ve got nothing. We never even kept a small, even a tiny oil well. Not one little oil well. I said, ‘Keep the oil.’”

The notion that the U.S. military should have taken Iraq’s oil, it should be said at the outset, is flatly illegal. "What Trump seems to be advocating here would be a fundamental violation of international law embodied in numerous international agreements and in recognized principles of customary international law," Anthony Clark Arend, a Georgetown University professor of government and foreign service, told PolitiFact last year.

It would also stretch the imagination to envision how such a strategy would play out in reality. Iraq’s oil sector is made up of a mix of state-owned interests and private ones. Most of the investment going into Iraq’s enormous southern oil fields come from international companies, such as BP, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, CNPC and Lukoil. Kurdish oil fields in the north are also run mostly by international companies. It is not clear what “taking” the oil really looks like.

“I’ve always thought that was beyond stupid. In other words, I don’t even know what it means,” John McLaughlin, former Deputy Director of the CIA under the Clinton and Bush administrations, told the New Yorker Radio Hour last week. “Try and operationalize that. Does that mean sending troops to surround oil wells while you pump it out, then transport it out of the country? Or does it mean something else? I have no idea what he’s talking about. So I assume it won’t happen. So I’m not worried about it.”

On top of that, “taking” Iraq’s oil, however that played out, would be a political nightmare. While some might dismiss the comments as just talk, even the suggestion of taking Iraq’s oil is already having a negative effect. The comments, combined with the travel ban that the Trump administration ordered on seven majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, has sparked a backlash against the U.S. in Iraq.

The Iraqi public and Iraqi members of parliament are pressuring Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to scale back its cooperation with the U.S. government and military, which could jeopardize the long-term presence of American troops in Iraq. This is potentially an enormous and underreported development given that it is a top priority of the U.S. government to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In fact, U.S. troops have been cooperating with Iraqi forces for months on a major campaign to retake Mosul, a mission that is set to ramp up again in the near future to take the western portion of the city.

"Trump embarrassed al-Abadi," Saad al-Mutalabi, a lawmaker and ally of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told the AP. "There will be a general consensus that Americans should not stay in Iraq after Mosul, after the statements and the executive order from Trump," he said. "We believed that we had a strategic agreement with the U.S."

A narrowing of the U.S. presence in Iraq would serve to benefit Iran, dealing another blow to the Trump administration. And speaking of Iran, Shiite militias inside Iraq told the AP that they would target U.S. interests if the U.S. went after Iran, their benefactor.

President Trump’s reckless comments about “taking Iraq’s oil,” in other words, are undermining multiple U.S. strategic goals all at once. In the minds of a lot of Iraqis, they also confirm the worst: that the 2003 U.S. invasion was all about access to Iraq’s oil, something top American officials have always denied.

The stakes are high, with Iraq fighting a war against ISIS while trying to revive its oil sector. Oil revenues account for 93 percent of Iraq’s revenue, and the country is struggling under the weight of an expensive war and low oil prices. Iraq needs its oil to rebuild, and any effort to squeeze the government by the U.S. would be counterproductive to Iraq’s well-being, to say the least. President Trump’s “shoot from the hip” style has earned him some degree of domestic support, but he is in the process of needlessly burning bridges with some of the countries that he will need the most.


By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Bud on February 16 2017 said:
    Curious timing, however, he might mean U.S. firms should be advantaged when cutting development and production deals commensurate with participation in Iraqi freedom.
  • zipsprite on February 16 2017 said:
    It's going to be a long four years.
  • Bob on February 17 2017 said:
    My compliments on an excellent and solid article in every way.
  • Sohi on February 17 2017 said:
    You have already taken out billions of barrels of Iraq oil that's how u can play with the world oil prices
  • Jim Decker on February 17 2017 said:
    Saddam was Sunni and ISIS is Sunni. We saved the Shia majority from Saddam and are now saving them from ISIS. They repay us with IEDs and loyalty to Iran. That is what happens when you play Mr Nice Guy in the Middle East. All they understand is POWER. This cost us 5000 American lives. The vast amount of those lives were lost during years of nation building, not the initial invasion/overthrow of Saddam.

    I don't like the idea of war reparations. Instead, we should learn a lesson. No more nation building. Punish enemies by putting them back into the 7th Century- that is where they seem to want to be anyway. Start with Iran. They will be giving us plenty of excuses in the coming months.

    That will increase the value of non-OPEC oil and non-OPEC oil companies. This would create a huge increase in natural gas use for transportation and industry. This is all very positive for American jobs.

    Like McCain said: "Bomb. Bomb. Bomb. Bomb bomb Iran. (sing to the tune of Barbara Ann)
  • Steve on February 17 2017 said:
    Can you say Haliburton?
  • guest on February 19 2017 said:
    @Decker; Amazing, simply amazing! You really should take time to carefully write these personal insights down, along with any other lifetime, collected thoughts you deem worthy and then, without showing them to anyone, burn them in a pile in your mother's basement.
  • mothman777 on February 19 2017 said:
    Israel had the oil pipeline from Mosul to Kirkuk repaired and extended to Israel, and Israel, the slavemaster of the US and the rest of the NATO puppets, kept ALL the war booty in the form of that oil when Iraq was taken, which shows who is the real BOSS. Israel now extracts oil in perpetual continuity for zero cost, in unlimited amounts.

    I wonder, just where were the Israeli forces in all this, oh yes, that is right, in making the 9/11 attacks on America happen. I am sure all of brain dead America just loves Mr Trump's friends, and you know what, they really do, because they elected him.

    And the slaves got nothing, not one drop of oil as war booty after all that war expenditure and fighting and dying and murdering and destroying all of Iraq in an insane genocidal Biblical annihilation of the Iraqi people, who are now all dying a slow death from DU salted purposely by DU bombs dropped from coalition jet bombers over Iraq on every square metre of land, desert and mountain range, to ensure that after a few generations, no life will remain there.

    And it was Israel and crypto-Jewish led Saudi Arabia, together with a mass of traitorous Israel first American politicians who were really behind the 9/11 New York WTC attacks, a fact the American public seem to have grave difficulties in understanding and acting upon. See '911missinglinks', 2 hour 5 minute full version on YouTube.

    Yet Trump gives Saudi Arabia a peace award for 'fighting terrorism', and also supplies Saudi Arabia with arms, whilst Saudi Arabia still supplies arms to ISIS. All these leaders are completely ineffectual except in acting for Israel. and their NWO world domination program.
  • Trump on February 22 2017 said:
    Great 4 Years coming !!!! Hopefully 8!

Leave a comment

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