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Gulf News: Building a wall around oil

Iraq Oil reserves

By Joseph A. KKechichian, Special to Gulf News

Two news reports from Iraq caught attention this week with ominous consequences. First, we learned that American military units were building a three-mile-long wall to separate one of Baghdad’s Sunni enclaves from surrounding Shiite neighbourhoods, ostensibly to provide for sorely needed security. Second, a scientific study concluded that Iraq’s oil reserves could be twice as large as previously estimated, with the new reserves mostly in Al Anbar province.

Since the War for Iraq – and this is really its true name – was about oil, less generous critics would recommend that it might be more practical to build walls around oil fields, rather than separate major cities into enclaves. Without being flippant about it, one wonders how many guards might be necessary to safeguard what is genuinely precious in Iraq, rather than what is truly defensible? Should Baghdad and its allies devise more temporary security plans, or should they embark on massive investments to help build an egalitarian society, where everyone benefits from its resources?

Contentious plan

Part of a contentious security plan, this latest wall aims to protect the minority Sunni community of Adhamiyah on the Eastern side of the River Tigris, which will then become a completely gated enclave. Traffic in and out of the compound would be by invitation, much like existing conditions for the so-called Green Zone, to hopefully reduce ethnic cleansing and gratuitous mayhem. One hopes but reality is an entirely different thing. Reports out of Iraq are rife with bad news with death and gore a daily occurrence. Moreover, previous efforts to separate ethnic groups produced no improvements to security, the single most important objective of the government and occupation forces. In fact, earth barriers erected around Samarra in 2005, ostensibly to prevent insurgents from entering and leaving the Sunni-dominated city, had little effect on the overall conditions prevailing there. Similar steps at both Tal Afar and Fallujah were temporarily successful before the area fell back under insurgent control. In short, these types of measures may appear to improve security conditions, and while they may even record temporary gains, in reality they are no more than band-aids on a cancerous wound.

From the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall, from Israel’s Security Wall in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank to the Adhamiyah Wall, all such efforts proved futile in the past and are likely to emulate past fiascos. Walls create an illusion of security because their basic premise is to separate what cannot be separated. Indeed, all such initiatives – and they are just that – pretend to solve a problem whose solution lies elsewhere. In Adhamiyah, the solution is not in the street but inside certain mosques, around tribal majlises, on negotiating tables where every Iraqi is recognised as a valuable part of society. This was the gargantuan error of the previous regime that divided to rule. It surely cannot be the objective of this and successor governments if peace and stability are to ever return to Iraq.

Oil reserves

It is with this goal in mind – to restore Mesopotamia to a healthy footing as a nation-state -that one must assess the news about newly estimated potential oil reserves. According to the Englewood, Colorado-based consulting firm IHS, Inc, and reported on the front page of last Thursday’s Financial Times of London, Iraq may hold an additional 100 billion barrels of oil, located in the western Al Anbar province. Added to the country’s current reserve base of 115 billion barrels, Iraq would thus become the world’s second proven depository after Saudi Arabia (375bb). These recoverable oil resources would thus surpass those of Iran (130bb), Kuwait (120bb), and the United Arab Emirates (100bb), respectively, the world’s third, fourth and fifth largest proven and recoverable oil holdings. A 225bb estimate is significant and may go a long way to explain – but not justify – the 2003 war, now that (almost) no one believes in the imminent use of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” against Western targets or the lofty objective of “democratisation”.

Given this immense wealth, Iraqi authorities should seriously think of protecting it, not with walls that will naturally protect billions of barrels under ground in Al Anbar, but with genuine plans to invest in Iraq’s future. It would be grotesque to let such an opportunity escape, as the need to channel Iraq’s wealth to rebuild infrastructure, especially its human capabilities, is so obvious. This wealth will surely provide what is essential for Iraq to, once again, make a claim for what all of its peoples always aspired towards: to add value to their society. It is, in fact, the ticket to remove walls, repatriate refugees, and provide for all of its population’s requirements.

– Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a Middle East affairs analyst and is the author of several books on the Gulf, including “Political Participation and Stability in the Sultanate of Oman”, “The Just Prince: A Manual of Leadership”, “Succession in Saudi Arabia” and “Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy”. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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