Oil and the new Sunni alliance with the U.S.
So the Sunni warlords/tribal chieftains/ex-Baathists/take-your-pick have decided to oppose the Al Qaeda gang in western Iraq and to cooperate with the U.S. forces. Let us revisit the journey of one Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia in May of this year.
At the time the CW was that Dick was being chastised by the house of Saud for the sectarian cleansing of Sunnis in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Maybe …
Or maybe not. My take on our boy Cheney is that he does not fly off to foreign parts to be chastised. I opine that he went there to discuss some new strategy for the Iraq enterprise. My guess is that the Saudis and the U.S. petroleum industry have given up on the idea of a docile government for the “nation” of Iraq. Instead, they are headed toward the partition of Iraq. And they will happily accept the western desert half for the Sunni section.
You, gentle reader, are probably aware that the current Iraqi oil fields are quite a prize in their own right, as this report states:
CRS Report for Congress
April 13, 2005
In contrast to a mature oil-producing province such as the United States, where 521,000 wells produce about 5.8 mbd, Iraqi output comes from only 1,600 wells potentially able to produce almost 3 mbd. The comparison (U.S. wells average about 10 barrels per day, while Iraqi wells can average several thousand) points up the prolific nature of Iraq’s hydrocarbon-bearing geology, and points toward easily realized production increases with the application of current reservoir management techniques, the drilling of additional wells, and infrastructure improvements.
You may be aware that the U.S. DOE (energy) predicts that the almost-unexplored western region probably doubles the proven oil reserves of Iraq. (The U.S. Geological Survey group is substantially more conservative, but their estimates are essentially based on existing fields and geological research.) If correct, Iraq becomes the largest known reserves by nation – on the order of the claimed reserves of Saudi Arabia itself. Plus, there is no reason to believe that the oil in this desert is more difficult to retrieve than in the current Iraqi oil fields.
However, there is reason to believe that Saudi oil, even if correctly estimated, is becoming more difficult to extract – partly because of water injection in the pumping process and partly because of seawater intrusion. (I was involved in nickel-base, thick-section casting research twenty-five years ago. The work was largely promoted on the basis that seawater-induced corrosion of standard oil pumps, valves, etc. was becoming a problem in Saudi production.) At any rate there are substantial costs associated with separating the oil from the water, with or without the salt component. These costs do not apply to Iraqi oil from the western desert at this point, and they will not apply for some years to come.
The upshot is that the current sectarian cleansing does not discourage our boy Darth Cheney in the least. He is perfectly willing to give up the southeastern sector to the Shiites – which has already happened, as the departure of the British forces will soon make clear. The U.S. forces may well continue to occupy Baghdad, as a natural strategic fortress to anchor a defense against continued Shiite attacks on his new Sunni constituency. He may well lob a few (thousand) bombs in the general direction of Iran just to pre-emptively show the penalty for potential forays. (I won’t be surprised if he abandons the Kurds once again to the gentle persuasions of the Turks and Iranians. This will be the punishment for making oil deals on their own with non-Anglo-American companies.)
The Sunni majority in the western region will become a subsidiary of Aramco, and they will cut Syria in on the deal via pipeline tolls to Mediterranean ports and to Israel. That, I think, was the plan as devised by our-man-from-big-oil and the big saud. Two months was about the right amount of time to put out the word and make the deals.