In a previous post last week I alluded to the news that right now Iraq has something we haven’t had in a while: a budget surplus. Apparently, oil revenues are so good that Iraq is rolling in oil money.
But even though that surplus isn’t going to pay for the basic needs of Iraq citizen — like clean drinking water — someone making use of it: the insurgents.
The Baiji refinery, with its distillation towers rising against the Hamrin Mountains, may be the most important industrial site in the Sunni Arab-dominated regions of Iraq. On a good day, 500 tanker trucks will leave the refinery filled with fuel with a street value of $10 million.
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.
“It’s the money pit of the insurgency,” said Capt. Joe Da Silva, who commands several platoons stationed at the refinery.
Five years after the war in Iraq began, the insurgency remains a lethal force. The steady flow of cash is one reason, even as the American troop buildup and the recruitment of former insurgents to American-backed militias have helped push the number of attacks down to 2005 levels.
At the fifth anniversary, the conflict’s staggering burden is a rebuke to any who hoped Saddam’s removal might be accomplished at an acceptable cost. Back in 2003, only the most prescient could have guessed that the current “surge” would raise the U.S. troop commitment above 160,000, the highest level since the invasion, in the war’s fifth year, or that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well nearly 4,000 U.S. troops; or that America’s financial costs, by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008, on their way to perhaps $2 trillion if the commitment continues for another five years.
Beyond that, there are a million or more Iraqis living as refugees in neighboring Arab countries, and the pitiful toll of fear and deprivation on Iraqi streets.
Well, at least now we know where some of that oil revenue is going.