Yesterday, Vice President Cheney appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show and fear-mongered about the consequences of withdrawing from Iraq. He told Hannity that al Qaeda may take over Iraq’s oil reserves:
HANNITY: If we pull out too early, what do you believe the consequences would be? […]
CHENEY: For us to walk away from Iraq I think would have at least that bad an effect, probably worse, because if al Qaeda were to take over big parts of Iraq, among other things, they would acquire control of a significant oil resource. Iraq has almost 100 billion barrel reserves, producing 2.5–3 million barrels of oil a day. If you take a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and give it that kind of revenue, there’s no telling the amount of trouble they could get into.
This claim appears to be emerging as an administration talking point about the dangers of withdrawal. On March 19, President Bush also warned that out of “chaos in Iraq” could emerge an “emboldened al Qaeda with access to Iraq’s oil resources.” When a reporter asked White House spokeswoman Perino about Bush’s statement, even she couldn’t believe Bush would make this claim, alleging that the reporter was misrepresenting the President’s comments. (He wasn’t.)
It’s highly unlikely that al Qaeda would take control of Iraq’s oil if the United States redeployed. First, the vast majority of Iraqis are Shi’ites, who want nothing to do with a fringe Sunni group like Al Qaeda. Second, 70 percent of the country’s oil is in southern Iraq — e.g. Basra — where there are strong Shi’ite strongholds.
Despite Cheney and Bush’s claims, U.S. withdrawal would not mean that al Qaeda would suddenly be able to defeat at least three different powerful Shi’ite militias (Mahdi Army, Badr Organization, and Fadhila’s gangs) to seize control over Iraq’s oil.