Debating Iraq’s Winners

Bill Emmott is right to argue that the Iraq war triggered record oil prices, making petrostates some of the war’s biggest winners ("Who Wins in Iraq? The Price of Oil," March/April 2007). But he fails to mention oil companies. The war in Iraq has delivered them unprecedented profits. Now, Iraq’s new government is about to ...

Bill Emmott is right to argue that the Iraq war triggered record oil prices, making petrostates some of the war’s biggest winners ("Who Wins in Iraq? The Price of Oil," March/April 2007). But he fails to mention oil companies. The war in Iraq has delivered them unprecedented profits. Now, Iraq’s new government is about to hand over massive and easily accessible oil reserves through production-sharing agreements, an extremely rare opportunity in today’s oil sector. Then, once the conflict in Iraq calms down, there will be ample opportunity for oil companies to bargain hard with an Iraqi government that faces donor fatigue and restricted access to financial markets. Companies will be able to reinvest their wartime profits into the safest oil-producing areas. And they will no doubt take the lion’s share of Iraq’s oil revenues through contractual "cost oil" provisions, which will provide them with swift reimbursement of their investments. In other words, companies have had their cake, and now they will eat it, too.

Gordon Adams’s Prime Numbers article in the same issue ("Iraq’s Sticker Shock") also revealed that the war in Iraq could cost the United States more than $500 billion by the end of 2007, yet none of your commentators pointed out that foreign contractors have captured most of this windfall. From the individual mercenaries’ $1,000 daily wages to multimillion-dollar reconstruction consultancies and multibillion-dollar military procurement contracts, foreign contractors are also clear winners of the Iraq war.

Assistant Professor
Liu Institute for Global Issues
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada


Iraq’s majority Shia population, freed from decades of persecution, was notably absent from the list of beneficiaries of the Iraq war. Perhaps they were represented, in a sense, by Moqtada al-Sadr. Dexter Filkins argues that Sadr’s authority is rising, and that he "can plausibly claim to be the most powerful man in the country" ("Who Wins in Iraq? Moqtada al-Sadr"). Arguably, though, no single man has as much control in Iraq as Filkins grants to Sadr.

Power has atomized in Iraq since 2003. The country is experiencing a de facto devolution of authority to the provincial, municipal, and neighborhood levels. Local leaders are tapping oil pipelines at the source, hoarding national commodities, and developing their own microeconomies and militaries. Against such a background, to suggest that an individual such as Sadr has built a meaningful, long-term influence base in Iraq is misleading. Sadr continues to struggle against the strong forces pulling his loose network of militia leaders apart and threatening the very existence of the political wing he leads. The same decline in control occurred with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Considered a pivotal influence in 2003, he is now viewed as a side actor.

The real winners in Iraq can be found among the class of ministerial, provincial, and municipal leaders who have profited from the numerous political reshuffles and wholesale redistribution of wealth since 2003. Typically, these local leaders are not moderates, technocrats, or exponents of good governance. The Basra Provincial Council is a salient example, composed of local Islamist militias that have closed ranks to lock the central government out of power in Iraq’s most oil-rich province. Perhaps this is why the Shia are not yet counted among the winners in Iraq.

Lafer International Fellow
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Washington, D.C.


Amatzia Baram is incorrect to identify Israel as a winner in Iraq ("Who Wins in Iraq? Israel"). From an Israeli point of view, not only was the initial goal of the war of secondary benefit to Israel, its results have so far harmed the country. Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction by 2003, and its military capabilities were severely degraded by ongoing U.N. sanctions. The invasion removed a brutal dictator whose hatred of Israel was without question, but whose ability to do Israel serious harm was minimal. Evidence has even emerged that then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon privately warned U.S. President George W. Bush against the invasion.

Israel is now threatened by an emboldened coalition of enemies in the region. Iran and Syria have taken an active role in fomenting instability and insurgency in postwar Iraq. The perceived failure of U.S. plans there has given heart and opportunity to those who wish the United States and its regional allies harm. Iran is now attempting to build an alternative pole of power and influence. With its nuclear ambitions, its threats to destroy Israel, and its extensive assistance to organizations engaged in violence against Israelis, Iran has surely been strengthened as a result of the Iraq war. And that is clearly not in Israel’s interest.

Research Fellow
Global Research in International Affairs Center
Herzliya, Israel

David Frum writes that Samuel Huntington’s thesis about an impending clash of civilizations has been substantiated by the outcomes of the Iraq war ("Who Wins in Iraq? Samuel Huntington"). This conclusion errs in several ways. First, recall that Huntington merged Islamic states into one homogeneous civilization. Yet the most significant aspect of Islamic civilization today is its internal and external heterogeneity. Both the 1990 Gulf War and the current war in Iraq have demonstrated that Muslim states adopt distinctly different stances toward other actors in the conflicts.

By making his sweeping generalizations about a monolithic Islamic civilization, Huntington blurred the intensifying Sunni-Shia schism that is currently developing apace within Islam, especially in the Middle East. The future does not portend further pan-Islamic unity. Instead, we can expect to see a growing struggle between the Sunni states on the one hand, and the Shiite state of Iran and Shiite movements within countries such as Lebanon on the other.

It would be disastrous for policymakers in Washington to adopt Huntington’s viewpoint. As a result, the U.S. government would fail to distinguish the differences between and within Muslim states and the dissimilar policies adopted by their governments. We need less of the macrohistoricism of Samuel Huntington and more of the realism of Hans J. Morgenthau.

Professor Emeritus of International Relations
New York University
Sarasota, Fla.


Frum argues that "more and more [Americans] are coming to believe that Islam really is inherently hostile to democracy and the West." Although it is possible that the number of people who believe Huntington’s argument has somewhat increased, a majority of Americans do not agree with his conclusions. In fact, the clash of civilizations thesis now has few takers.

According to a 2007 BBC World Service poll, only 17 percent of Americans agree that the current global tensions between Islam and the West are caused primarily by "fundamental differences between these two cultures." Instead, 73 percent say such tensions are caused more by "intolerant minorities" on both sides. Moreover, a plurality of Americans believe that tensions between Islam and the West actually arise more from "conflicts about political power and interests" (49 percent) than they do from "differences of religion and culture" (38 percent). Less than one third agree that violent conflict is inevitable between Muslim and Western cultures, and this stance is consistent with poll results during the past five years. The results also show that Americans’ opinions are similar to those of people in many of the other 26 countries polled — hardly a ringing endorsement for Huntington’s thesis.


Research Director
Program on International Policy Attitudes
Washington, D.C.

David Frum replies:

Let me make it clear that I do not think Huntington’s thesis has been substantiated by the Iraq war, as Albert Weeks claims. I am reporting my concern that Americans at large will reach this conclusion. On this point, Steven Kull and Clay Ramsay reassure us that a recent poll finds fewer than a third of Americans agree that violence between Muslims and the West is inevitable. My reaction is: That’s even worse than I feared.

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