August 1, 2004
San Antonio Express-News

In November 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured us that the then-looming second Iraq war had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.”

Unfortunately, Rumsfeld still hasn’t convinced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or the insurgents in Iraq of that fact.

In the past few weeks, America’s enemies in Iraq and Saudi Arabia have made it painfully clear that they think the ongoing war has everything to do with oil. The latest evidence came July 3, when the pipelines that feed Iraq’s most important oil export points — the Mina al-Bakr and Khor al-Amaya terminals in the Persian Gulf — were bombed yet again.

The bombing occurred just 11 days after the pipelines were put back into service. They were shut down in mid-June, when a massive bomb made them inoperable for nearly a week. Each day they’re down costs about $50 million.

And therein lies the problem: Al-Qaida and the insurgents know that the best way to hurt America’s long-term plan for Iraq is by attacking Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

“Whoever controls Iraqi oil, controls Iraq’s destiny,” says A.F. Alhajji, an oil industry analyst at Ohio Northern University. By preventing Iraq from exporting large amounts of oil, the insurgents are assuring that the nascent Iraqi government remains in tatters.

On April 24, three bomb-laden boats piloted by suicide bombers attacked both of Iraq’s oil terminals in the Persian Gulf. None hit their targets.

But two days after the attacks, al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaida leader, issued a statement that makes it clear oil is the issue.

“We tell you enemies of God, robbers of oil and riches and drug traders … we will exterminate and debilitate you by land, sea and air until God makes us victorious or until we die.” He went on to say that al-Qaida was “striking vital economic links of the infidel and atheist states.”

One week after the attack on the terminals, Saudi gunmen killed two Americans, two Brits and an Australian working for ABB Lummus in the oil town of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia’s most important port on the Red Sea.

On May 29, al-Qaida assassins attacked an oil industry complex in Khobar, leaving 22 people dead. After the Khobar attack, al-Qaida leader Abdulaziz al-Moqrin (now believed to be dead) said the attack was carried out because the Saudi leaders have been providing “America with oil at the cheapest prices according to their masters’ wish, so that their economy does not collapse.”

Al-Qaida’s leaders have talked about the oil issue for years. Osama bin Laden has repeatedly referred to what he calls the “rape” and “plunder” of Saudi Arabia’s oil riches by the United States.

Since June 2003, insurgents have attacked various parts of Iraq’s oil infrastructure more than 100 times. Most vulnerable are the pipelines. More than 14,000 security personnel are deployed throughout Iraq, guarding pipelines, pumping stations, refineries and oil wells. But another 14,000 guards may be needed.

Nearly 4,400 miles of oil pipelines crisscross Iraq. And defending all that territory has proven nearly impossible. The 400-mile-long pipeline that connects the oil-rich town of Kirkuk in northern Iraq to the Turkish port at Ceyhan has been bombed dozens of times in the past year. Pipelines in central Iraq have also been hit. One of Iraq’s biggest refineries has been shut down because of the pipeline bombings. And on July 4, insurgents bombed Iraq’s north-south pipeline, setting it ablaze.

The unfortunate truth is that America has lost the war in Iraq. And the sad irony: We lost because we cannot defend the one resource that has driven U.S. foreign policy in Iraq for six decades — oil.


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