Crude Methods

The longer the Iraq war drags on, the better for OPEC. Originally fearing a big American intervention in the oil market, Middle Eastern oil experts are breathing sighs of relief. A top government source said last weekend that Iran now doesn't think the U.S. can trash OPEC, which is fine by the Iranians. Tehran is trying to stay out of the war—if anything, it wants to achieve a modest accommodation with the U.S. The Iranian betting is that the U.S. will have its work cut out just getting the Iraqi oil fields to produce enough to run the country, let alone threaten anybody else. This seems to be a common view among Middle East oilmen. And holding an angry population at bay, the Americans will leave the oil business in the hands of Iraqi technocrats. That leaves them sitting ducks to be picked off by a new dictator, presumably one picked by the U.S.

The world is awash in oil, and OPEC currently has its hands full trying to keep the price above $25 per barrel so as to guarantee decent returns to the producing countries, as well as a decent return for the Texas independent producers.

The Iraqi oil fields are so dilapidated it will take years to modernize them. Oil industry planners believe Iraq sometime in the future will be able to produce 6 million barrels per day. Before the current hostilities began, production stood at half that amount.

The ideologues around Bush originally dreamed of turning Iraq into an American oil reservoir that could rival any in the world. The Middle East produces some 30 percent of the world's oil and two-thirds of all reserves are in that region. In 20 years, half the world's exports will come from the area. Saudi Arabia is the largest producer and sits on one-quarter of the world's oil reserves.

The idea was that Iraq, with a modernized industry, could produce quantities of oil sufficient to rival the Saudis. U.S. control of Iraqi oil would not only open up a new supply for the U.S.—where it is anticipated that oil imports will provide two-thirds of the total needs by 2020—but it could also end up changing the entire structure of the energy business. Control of Iraqi oil would allow the U.S. to wield a major counterweight to OPEC, allowing the U.S., not OPEC, to force prices up and down. It would lessen the importance of Saudi Arabia and give the U.S. added clout in its dealings with Russia, Venezuela and West Africa.

Of course, depending on how the war plays out, these bright hopes may well become pipe dreams.


Unfortunately, the U.S. has often flouted international rules aimed at guaranteeing humanitarian treatment under the Geneva treaties and other agreements. Examples:

•The U.S. has designated captives in the “war on terror,” including Taliban members, as “unlawful combatants” or “enemy combatants”—not as prisoners of war. About 650 people, most of them in that category, remain in military detention at Guantnamo Bay, according to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

•During the current “War on Terror,” the U.S. has ignored rules against holding people without charge or trial—specifically, the right to a hearing, as set forth in the Third Geneva Convention and elsewhere.

•The U.S. admitted to employing “stress and duress” tactics on prisoners at Baghram airbase in Afghanistan, thus violating standards of the Geneva Convention and the convention against torture.

•The U.S. has subjected Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment—degrading them by parading them in public, hooded and in shackles. The U.S. has condoned torture by surrogates in other countries.

Elsewhere, the U.S. violates other international standards:

•The U.S. used cluster bombs, notably in the former Yugoslavia, where one-quarter of the civilian deaths were due to the use of cluster bombs in areas where they became what activists called “indiscriminate weapons.”

•The U.S. opposes anything and everything that bans or restricts the death penalty.

•The U.S. refused to join the International Criminal Court and embarked on a fierce lobbying campaign against it. And it seeks exemption for U.S. nationals overseas should they fall under the court's jurisdiction.

•The U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty and won't ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which is aimed at slowing global warming.

•The U.S. won't sign a treaty banning land mines. The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines urged President Bush in December 2002 not to allow U.S. forces to deploy antipersonnel land mines in Iraq and to work toward U.S. accession to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. A group of 130 nations, including every member of NATO except the U.S., has embraced the treaty. The U.S. used a total of 117,634 land mines in the first Gulf War, including 27,967 antipersonnel mines. A total of 81 U.S. casualties were attributed to land mines.


Meanwhile in Iraq, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports, thousands of U.S. Marines have received a pamphlet from Touch Ministries called “A Christian's Duty,” which has a tear-out section for the soldier to fill in and send to the White House, attesting that “I have committed to pray for you, your family, your staff and our troops during this time of uncertainty and tumult. May God's peace be your guide.” There's a prayer for every day. Sunday's is to pray that Bush and his top aides will pray to God “and not rely on their own understanding.” For Monday, the mini-prayer book urges a prayer to keep Bush strong and courageous and “to do what is right regardless of critics.”

Additional reporting by Phoebe St. John, Joanna Khenkine and Mosi Secret.

Mainline Christian churches are strongly opposed to the Iraq war. Some 50 leaders of 13 denominations and five organizations told Bush (himself a Methodist) that they were opposed. Only the Southern Baptist Convention is for the war. “Finally,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics N Religious Liberty Commission, “we come to a moment of last resort, and the United States is now leading a coalition of more than 40 nations from around the world that have not only perceived the danger but also have the courage of their convictions to act upon them and disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people.”TV images of downcast, frightened American soldiers have brought furious denunciations of the Iraqi military by U.S. leaders for violating the Geneva Conventions.

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