The land of Iraq, earlier known as Mesopotamia, has a long history going back to Neanderthal times some 60,000 years ago. Later, around 10,000 years ago, it became the site for some of the most important developments in human history: the invention of the wheel, planting of cereal crops, the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy and agriculture. Today it is recognized as one of the cradles of civilization.

The Iraq location also became a prize bit of real estate, conquered by a dozen empires over the years until 1921 when the Kingdom of Iraq was established as a League of Nations mandate under British control. In setting up this nation as a pro-Western monarchy, however, Britain planted the seeds for many future troubles. By defining the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country, such as the Kurds, Shi'ites, and Sunnis, the groundwork was laid for today's rivalries and enmities.

The Americans entered the picture fairly late in the game. In the 1830s, a large number of evangelical missionaries arrived to build hundreds of churches, schools and medical facilities. Beginning in 1880, archaeologists from from American universities conducted field work in Mesopotamia, hoping to discover artifacts that would corroborate biblical history. In the 1900s, U.S. oil corporations, looking for commercial opportunities in Mesopotamia, gained a 23.75 percent share in the Iraq Petroleum Corporation. In 1958, however, a coalition of Iraqi military officers, disillusioned by the monarchy's subservience to the West, overthrew the king in a bloody coup d'etat and set up a new regime with an anti-western flavor.

This led to a number of further developments. In 1967, Iraq severed diplomatic relations with the United States because it considered the U.S. complicit in Israeli military conquests during the Six Day War in June of that year. Then, in the 1970s, after Iraq nationalized U.S. petroleum interests and entered into a partnership with the Soviet Union to develop its oil capacity, U.S. officials began covertly equipping Kurdish rebels in order to weaken the Iraqi government. 

On March 20, 2003 this process culminated in a U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq that involved 248,000 soldiers from the U.S., 45,000 British soldiers, 2,000 Australian soldiers, 194 Polish soldiers, and Kurdish militia troops. The American and British leaders, George Bush Jr. and Tony Blair, denied that the invasion had anything to do with oil. But when they realized that the invasion's codename "Operation Iraqi Liberation" could be shortened to OIL, they quickly changed it to "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The rationale for the invasion, however, was more explicitly set forth in Bush's Executive Order No. 13303. It declared that future legal claims on Iraq's oil wealth constitute "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." This was our nation's official answer to the question "What is our oil doing under their sand?" 

This switch in claimants to Iraq's oil has been a stark one. Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry had been fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. After a decade of war, the picture radically changed. The oil industry was now almost completely privatized and dominated by foreign firms such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell, and by American oil service companies such as Halliburton, the Texas-based firm headed by Dick Cheney before he became George Bush's running mate. Iraq's oil industry now operates with little oversight or regulation.  

This de-nationalization process has had a profound impact on Iraq itself. Efforts to uproot the foreign hold on its major strategic asset and source of national wealth have been blocked. Hope for rebuilding its infrastructure and social services, such as health care and education, has been turning into national despair and fomenting civil warfare.

Michael Schwartz, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, has an important insight to share about Iraq and its oil problems: "The oppressive United States occupation was racked with insurgency precisely because it tried to harness the country's vast oil resources to its imperial designs in the Middle East. The oppressive Maliki regime is now racked with insurgency because the prime minister refused to share these same vast oil revenues with his Sunni constituents."

An oil change is long overdue. 

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This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice.  Opinions expressed in "Lion and Lamb" columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff.  For more information, contact Ted Braun, column coordinator, at 277-5135.

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