When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it made a promise to the Iraqi people: that after the bombs and bullets stopped flying, after Saddam was toppled, their lives would be made immeasurably better. Because Iraq sits on some of the world’s largest oil fields, money would flow during peacetime and fill their public coffers, replacing chaos and poverty with prosperity and plenty.
As we know, this did not happen.
PIPE DREAMS: The Plundering of Iraq’s Oil Wealth tells the story of how political infighting, tribal cronyism, Western meddling, widespread corruption and the war with ISIS has coalesced to squander that vast oil wealth, leaving ordinary citizens poorer and more despondent than they were under Saddam Hussein.
Join us as Nathen Huang, POLITICO data analyst, interviews Banco about her reporting on oil corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan, which aspired to gain more autonomy from Baghdad through oil sales. She explains how oil did flow, but little of it reached ordinary Kurds. Instead, the Kurdish political elite created a system of pay-to-play contracts and kickbacks with international oil companies that enriched themselves while everyone else remained mired in a financial crisis. Much of this greed and fraud, Banco reveals, was tolerated if not abetted by the United States and the oil companies, robbing the Iraqi people of their natural resource rights.
Banco, who covered the rise of ISIS in Iraq as a Middle East correspondent for International Business Times, was given documents detailing transactions between Iraq’s Ministry of Natural Resources and multinational oil companies that investigators say are thinly disguised kickbacks and part of a web of corruption. She also relies on testimony from U.S. and UK regulatory enforcement officers who worked for years investigating corruption in Iraq’s oil sector. She interviewed many Iraqis who work in the oil sector as well as ordinary Iraqi citizens, many of them now jobless or internally displaced – and nearly all of them hurting with their economy in a tailspin.