Fancypants college professor Kriston Capps tips me to an interesting look by the Associated Press at whether Nigeria’s violence-plagued oil sector foreshadows oil development in Iraq. Since I don’t want to run afoul of the AP’s infamous anti-blogger guidelines, I’m going to have to ask you to follow the link and trust my paraphrasing. This is the lay of the land: Nigeria has a massive amount of oil; a weak central government; unequal distribution of its oil wealth (or at least the perception of such) is an accelerant of violence; and the presence of gangsterish oil corporations are an accelerant of the unequal distribution of its oil wealth. (The piece doesn’t really come out and say that, but it’s fairly clear.) Sound like any country we might be occupying?

The Iraqi government is fumbling through its own round of negotiation with petro-giants, despite very little being settled in terms of oil’s relationship to sectarianism. There’s one quote from the AP article that seems particularly apt when applied to Iraq, so the wire service can sue me:

"Oil companies can negotiate with the central government, but if the local government and local people are not happy, the oil companies are not going to be able to do what they want to do," said Amy Jaffe, an energy expert at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

For years, the oil pipelines and the Bayji refinery in the north have been frequent insurgent targets. Nearly every political party has a militia. All it takes is a few bombs, a few hostages and a few sprays of gunfire by a party that feels, uh, disrespected at either the national or the local level to upset an extremely delicate process. In fact, take that one step further: any oil company that’s going to operate in Iraq is going to hire a private security company. Probably not Blackwater, but think Triple Canopy or DynCorp or someone like that. These guys do not take lightly to being shot at, and they are extremely aggressive in protection of their clients (to put it neutrally). In short, they’re perfect insurgent targets: not only are they symbols of unaccountable foreign interference, but they overreact almost by the terms of their hire. It would take a minimum of effort to set off a vicious circle of petro-insurgent (new term?) chaos.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman