The Politics Of Iraqi Oil

Iraq oil generic AP / CBS

The crisis in Iraq is not about oil, the world's diplomats say. But as CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason reports, some key countries that are resisting a war have a big stake in Iraqi oil fields.

"In the whole oil arena, Russia is Iraq's number one partner. They've signed billions of dollars in deals to develop fields. They are also their biggest trade partner by far," says Karen Matusic of Oil Daily.

Under U.N. sanctions, Saddam can sell oil only to raise money for humanitarian supplies. Iraq pumps about 2.5 million barrels a day and Russian companies broker and handle about 40 percent of those oil exports.

"The Iraq business is very important to some players, including some Russian companies that are close to the Kremlin," says Thane Gustafson, an analyst at Cambridge Energy Research.

Saddam has often rewarded his political allies with oil deals. And if Russia is Saddam's favorite, Gustafson says, "The French are right behind."

France's largest oil company Total-Fina-Elf, has been negotiating to develop 2 giant Iraqi oil fields. In fact, France, which has strongly resisted military action against Baghdad, is Iraq's third largest trading partner -- like the Russians.

"They definitely have a vested interest in this financially. Who knows what's gonna happen in a post war Iraq. They stand to lose billions of dollars in future revenues," says Phil Flynn of Alaron Trading.

Moreover, a new Iraqi government would likely void Saddam's oil deals. As exiled Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi told 60 Minutes, "Any contracts are either illegal or unfair."

The U.S. has quietly reassured Russia that its interests will be protected in a post-Saddam Iraq. But President Putin has other concerns. Oil exports are crucial to the Kremlin's tax revenues. If Saddam's successors begin to flood the market with crude, the price could slide.

"If the price of oil goes down, then it's the whole Russian government that takes a big hit. That's 60 percent of their revenues directly and indirectly that start to head downhill," explains Gustafson.

The debate at the U.N. may be about a dictator and his weapons, but the diplomacy over Iraq is also clouded by the politics of oil.
  • Sue Chan

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