Iraqi Oil Lies Below Surface of UN Talks


By Evelyn Iritani and John Daniszewski

LA Times
November 5, 2002

Economic stakes are high as the five key Security Council members discussing a military strike on Baghdad eye its reserves.

One issue that could influence the outcome of the United Nations' debate on Iraq isn't even on the official agenda. It's the thorny question of who will control the hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of oil beneath the ground. In addition to being permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia are home to the world's leading energy companies, all of which are anxious to get access to Iraq's oil, the world's second-largest reserves behind Saudi Arabia.

While the politics of arms control and regime change dominate the public debate, an equally impassioned struggle is taking place over the economic stakes surrounding the U.S.-led campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Though the leading U.N. players have a huge stake in the future of Iraq's oil industry, observers are divided over how much oil politics might affect the Iraq vote expected this week.

"There was a theory floating around that one of the things the U.S. would do to garner support from the Russians, Chinese and French in the Security Council is to honor the deals that were agreed to" by the present Iraqi government, said John Kingston of Platts, an energy information service in New York. "But I don't see any signs of that. That might be tough for people to swallow." The Bush administration denies that it is masterminding a U.S.-led division of Iraq's lucrative oil reserves to benefit American multinational companies or its allies.

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