Potential oil windfall raises concerns over Iraq′s financial black hole | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 11.10.2010
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Potential oil windfall raises concerns over Iraq's financial black hole

Huge revenues from Iraq's oil reserves could soon start flowing into Baghdad's coffers. The concern is, however, that these profits may go the same way as the billions of dollars which have seemingly vanished from them.

Dollars change hands in front of the Iraqi flag

Billions of dollars have allegedly been siphoned off from Iraqi coffers

Iraq's recent announcement week that the estimated oil output from its 66 known oilfields could be as much as 143 billion barrels has not only stirred the interest of the power brokers at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) but also that of the US government and around 30 million Iraqis.

By increasing its original crude oil output forecast by around 25 percent, Iraq adds further weight to its claim that its oil reserves will see it join OPEC's elite, with only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela capable of producing more black gold.

However, the revelation that Iraq is not only ready to take its place in the oil-producing big leagues but could also reap the potentially huge wealth that could come from such reserves is beginning to attract some very unwanted attention at home and abroad.

With the potential windfall coming Iraq's way from its crude production, the United States is likely to increase its calls for Baghdad to share some of the costs for the war which rid the country of Saddam Hussein and his hated, brutal regime.

Washington is already considering hitting Iraq with a bill of around $2 billion (1.4bn euros) to help pay for the military operations and training US forces have been involved in since the invasion in 2003.

Washington looking for contribution toward war costs

US troops inspect the scene of a car bombing in Kirkuk

The US is trying to recoup some of its war costs from Iraq

The US has already spent around $667 billion on Operation Iraqi Freedom, the subsequent battle against the post-Saddam insurgency and the propping up of Iraq's fledgling democracy. There is a growing belief in the State, Treasury and Defense departments in Washington that an oil-rich country like Iraq should be contributing.

On the face of it, this may seem to be an outrageous position to take. Iraq didn't ask to be invaded and the rising costs of maintaining an occupation force in the country after the initial war could be seen as just rewards for bad post-invasion planning.

The justification in Washington is that, while the debt-ridden US is currently around $1.42 trillion in the hole, US government auditors discovered that Iraq has a reported budget surplus of around $52 billion.

Far from rolling in cash, Baghdad claims that around $40 billion of that surplus has already been ear-marked to repay cash loans and pay for "unspecified advances."

Financial black hole absorbs $40bn in "unspecified advances"

A man stands in front of a poster showing 100 US dollars note in an exchange office in Mosul

Others are taking an interest in where all the cash went

When pressed recently on details as to where this money has gone by the International Monetary Fund, Iraq's Finance Ministry couldn't - or wouldn't - say. The IMF gave the ministry until September 30 to show where the $40 billion had gone. The deadline passed with no satisfactory response.

Should Iraq start to reap the rewards of being blessed with vast oil reserves, the United States will have to move fast to get the money it feels it is owed - plus the $18 billion in American aid that the American embassy in Baghdad discovered that Iraq had embezzled in 2007.

Experts believe that such is the level of corruption in Iraq that any profits from the oil industry may find their way into the financial black hole which has swallowed up an amount of cash equal to the state budgets of Illinois and Indiana combined.

"Corruption is inextricably linked to oil," Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen, an Iraq expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Deutsche Welle. "Iraqi government control has endowed officials with lucrative opportunities for imposing rents, including those associated with theft and corruption. Corruption operates at most levels - these include the political leadership, political parties, officials in the Oil Ministry and workers at the oil facilities themselves."

News that their country is likely to come into a lot more money is also raising questions among Iraqi citizens who have so far seen very little evidence of what a $52.1 billion budget surplus can do to improve their lives.

Continue reading for more on Iraq's alleged surplus

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