U.S. oil companies are far from first in line as Iraq doles out its initial oil contracts. China, India—even Vietnam and Indonesia—have the inside track instead, thanks to contracts and infrastructure dating back to the Saddam regime, and more positive Iraqi sentiment. "They have no involvement with the secular or ethnic people," an Iraqi energy analyst says. "The conditions favor them."
The news may deflate some suspicions that oil lust motivated the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. Still, this round of contracts is small, and ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell could pull off the more lucrative long-term deals. "Giving a few crumbs to the Chinese and Indians is one thing," an analyst remarks; the Western companies "are biding their time."