Iraq, Oil and Insurgency

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The New York Times has an interesting and lengthy feature out today on the role played by oil in the Iraqi insurgency, examining the case of the Baiji refinery in particular.

The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq’s largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated — and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.

Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, cites (unnamed) Iraqi security analysts who claim Al-Qaeda in Iraq receives $50,000 to $100,000 per day from scams related to the Baiji refinery alone. This illicit diversion of oil revenues is presented as one of the principal reasons the insurgency continues to maintain momentum after five years, with money seen not just as an enabling factor for the insurgents, but a motivating factor too.

In fact, money, far more than jihadist ideology, is a crucial motivation for a majority of Sunni insurgents, according to American officers in some Sunni provinces and other military officials in Iraq who have reviewed detainee surveys and other intelligence on the insurgency.

Although many American military officials and politicians — and even the Iraqi public — use the term Al Qaeda as a synonym for the insurgency, some American and Iraqi experts say they believe that the number of committed religious ideologues remains small. They say that insurgent groups raise and spend money autonomously for the most part, with little centralized coordination or direction.

Read the full article here.

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