Drinking Iraq's Milkshake

Spencer Ackerman takes a look at the substantial problems facing oil companies looking to do business in Iraq. Some contracts were handed out recently, but those "aren't production contracts, but preliminary technical contracts" and really pumping oil would need to wait on Iraq writing a hydrocarbon law and the security situation improving to the point where Western companies are prepared to send their people over. The larger issue, though, is that to make big money in Iraq you'd have to make big infrastructure investments in Iraq. Investments with an uncertain payoff:

The oil conglomerates "are the toughest negotiators," said Martha Brill Olcott, a former Unocal adviser now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They'll work out a contract that insulates themselves from political risk. That's where countries get upset -- they paid too great a price to protect Western companies from political risk. That's a problem: Iraqis might agree to one set of terms now, but you can imagine in 2015, if we're lucky and it's stable [in Iraq], then they'll say, 'Why the hell did we agree to these terms?'"

Now I'll be quick to agree that this isn't the only factor at play, but it seems to me that a healthy portion of what's driving interest in a long-term US military presence in Iraq is precisely a desire to continue exercising "influence" in Iraq such that we can mitigate the political risk faced by your friendly neighborhood oil companies. Western companies don't like it when their developing world investments are lost to nationalization, and their desire to prevent this from happening has often had a powerful pull on American foreign policy.