On April 21, Ali Hussein Julood, a 21-year-old residing within the Iraqi city of Rumaila, on the outskirts of one of many world’s largest oil fields, died from leukaemia. He was informed by docs that air pollution from gasoline flared within the close by subject, which is operated by British Petroleum (BP), had seemingly prompted his most cancers.
“Fuel flaring” is a low-cost process utilized by oil firms to burn off the pure gasoline expelled throughout drilling. A waste of beneficial pure assets, it additionally contributes to international warming and causes harmful air air pollution that has been linked to extreme well being issues in close by populations. A few of the pollution launched throughout this course of, resembling benzene, are identified to trigger cancers and respiratory illnesses.
Ali, who had been battling most cancers for six years when he died, was solely the most recent sufferer of the environmental degradation brought on by worldwide oil firms like BP in Iraq. In cities and villages close to the nation’s huge oil fields, hundreds of different males, girls and kids are nonetheless residing beneath smoke-filled skies and struggling avoidable well being issues as a result of firm executives insist on placing revenue earlier than lives.
Whereas there may be not a lot publicly obtainable knowledge on the charges of pollution-related diseases in areas close to oil fields in southern Iraq, a confidential report from the Iraqi well being ministry not too long ago obtained by the BBC blamed air pollution from gasoline flaring, amongst different components, for a 20 p.c rise in most cancers in Basra, southern Iraq between 2015 and 2018. A second leaked doc, once more seen by the BBC, from the native authorities in Basra confirmed that most cancers instances within the area are thrice greater than figures revealed within the official nationwide most cancers registry.
Like many different issues and crises which are devastating the lives of bizarre Iraqis as we speak, the chain of occasions that led to the poisoning of southern Iraq’s skies by worldwide oil firms additionally began throughout colonial instances.
Within the early twentieth century, as its navy transitioned from coal to petrol, Britain discovered itself in growing want of oil to run its empire and gasoline its quite a few warfare efforts. On the time there was already a rising perception that Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and components of Syria) contained substantial reservoirs of oil, so British authorities directed their seek for extra oil there.
In 1912, Britain shaped the Turkish Petroleum Firm (TPC) with the aim of buying concessions from the Ottoman Empire to probe for oil in Mesopotamia. Following World Battle I, it introduced modern-day Iraq beneath its personal mandate and sped up its efforts to say the area’s huge reserves for itself.
By 1930, the TPC was renamed the Iraqi Petroleum Firm (IPC) and was put beneath the management of a consortium made up of BP, Complete, Shell and several other different American firms. Collectively, they pushed for a collection of “concession agreements” with the newly shaped Iraqi authorities which might give them unique management of Iraq’s oil assets on pre-defined phrases for lengthy intervals. By 1938, the IPC and its numerous subsidiaries had already secured the best to extract and export nearly all of the oil in Iraq for 75 years.
These concessions have been granted to the IPC and its subsidiaries whereas Iraq was dominated by British-installed monarchs and beneath de facto British management. Thus the state had nearly no negotiating energy towards the British-led consortium which meant it couldn’t make sure the concessions have been drafted in a approach that served the pursuits of the Iraqi individuals. In the long run, the agreements not solely failed to learn Iraq in any approach, however in addition they didn’t comprise any provisions geared toward defending native communities and the atmosphere from the undesirable penalties of oil extraction
The primary oil export pipeline in Iraq was constructed within the north, from the oil fields in Kirkuk to British-controlled Palestine, within the early Thirties. The event of the oil business within the south, the place Ali lived and died, started a number of years later. In 1948, massive portions of oil have been found by worldwide oil firms in Zubair, southern Iraq. Inside two years of the invention, six oil wells have been drilled in Zubair and a brand new pipeline was constructed to move the oil from these new fields to the port in al-Faw. Across the identical time, oil was present in Nahar Umr, and later, in 1953 one of many world’s largest oil fields, Rumaila, was found.
The event of the oil business in southern Iraq swiftly launched to the area environmental hazards related to the extraction of oil. As early as 1952, gasoline was being flared in Zubair in such massive portions that the night time sky over the oil fields was visibly polluted.
In 1955, the Iraqi authorities began to voice its want to make use of the gasoline being flared in Rumaila and Zubair for electrical energy era. In 1960, whereas negotiating a concession with the IPC, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim formally requested the corporate to let Iraq exploit the gasoline that it was not utilizing. The identical demand got here up time and again within the run-up to the nationalisation of the Iraqi oil business in 1972, however IPC and its subsidiaries repeatedly turned the Iraqi authorities down. They have been reluctant to permit Iraq use the surplus pure gasoline expelled throughout oil extraction as a result of flaring permits operators to de-pressurise their gear and handle unpredictable and huge strain variations with out growing their manufacturing prices. Capturing the gasoline reasonably than flaring requires them to place in additional security mechanisms, which would scale back the quantity of oil they extract, and with it, their earnings.
Iraq nationalised its oil business in 1972, and by 1990 had constructed the capability to seize 95 p.c of the pure gasoline expelled throughout drilling. Nonetheless, a few of this infrastructure was destroyed on account of sanctions and subsequent wars, limiting Iraq’s skill to retailer and use the gasoline, finish intensive flaring and cut back air pollution.
Following the 2003 invasion, the Iraqi oil business was as soon as once more privatised on account of strain from the US and the Worldwide Financial Fund (IMF). As was the case within the early twentieth century, any negotiations on oil extraction rights came about when Iraq was nonetheless beneath international occupation and gripped by ethno-sectarian battle, that means that the state had little energy to guard the rights and pursuits of the native inhabitants.
When the method of auctioning off oil fields in southern Iraq started in 2008, the Iraqi authorities supplied international oil firms long contracts of up to 25 years, harking back to the early concessions agreements with the IPC. These included stabilisation clauses, which insulated international firms from authorized adjustments which may emerge over the course of their contracts. This meant that the businesses have been, and proceed to be, unaffected by any environmental rules handed by the Iraqi authorities to cut back air pollution or carry Iraqi legal guidelines in keeping with rising worldwide environmental safety requirements.
Wanting again on the growth of the oil business in southern Iraq makes obvious that the type of air pollution that killed Ali has been within the making for some 70 years. His demise – just like the deaths of many others who succumbed to pollution-related cancers in his nation – was not an unavoidable tragedy, however the pure consequence of a protracted historical past of colonial violence and extractive capitalism.
Predatory colonial practices that started over a century in the past prompted southern Iraq’s huge oil reserves to be left beneath the only management of international firms as we speak – firms that again and again put revenue earlier than the lives of the Iraqi inhabitants of the lands they exploit.
Ali’s demise is but extra proof that colonial violence is way from over and that it has many various faces. At present, the colonisers are killing the peoples of the World South not solely with drones and bombs, but in addition with century-old extractive practices that regularly flip their homelands poisonous.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.