Say It Slowly: It Was About Oil


Iraq is going to hell. Shiites are killing Sunnis, Kurds are killing Arabs and Islamists are killing secular Baathists. Baghdad, the cradle of human civilization, has been left to looters and rapists. As in Beirut during the '70s, neighborhood zones are separated by checkpoints manned by armed tribesmen. The war has, however, managed to unite Iraqis in one respect: Everyone loathes the United States.

Some Iraqis hate us for deposing Saddam Hussein. No dictator remains in power without the tacit support of at some of his subjects. Now that we've committed the cardinal sin of conquest -- getting rid of the old system without thinking up a new one -- even those who chafed under Saddam blame us for their present misery.

Others resent our Pentagon-appointed pretender, 58-year-old banker/embezzler Ahmed Chalabi. The State Department points out that Iraq's new puppet autocrat has zero support among Iraqis, having lived abroad since 1958. But who knows? Maybe he was a really popular kid.

Thousands of Iraqis have been reduced to poverty, raped and murdered by rampaging goons as U.S. Marines stood around and watched. We watched the plunder of museums in Mosul and Baghdad safe at home with our tisk-tisk dismay, but Iraqis will remain outraged by the wanton devastation we wrought through war, permitted through negligence and shrugged off through arrogance. "We didn't allow it," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shrugged. "It happened."

Imagine foreign troops sitting idly, laughing as hooligans trashed the Smithsonian, stole the gold from Fort Knox and burned down the Department of the Interior. That was us in Iraq.

But let's forget this penny ante stuff. Let the real looting begin! George W. Bush's bestest buddies, corporate executives at companies which donate money in exchange for a few rounds of golf and a few million-dollar favors, are being handed the keys to Iraq's oil fields.

Bush's brazen Genghis Khan act seems carefully calculated to confirm our worst suspicions. First he appoints retired general Jay Garner, president of a GOP-connected defense contractor, SYColeman Corp., as viceroy of occupied Iraq. "The idea is we are in Iraq not as occupiers but as liberators, and here comes a guy who has attachments to companies that provided the wherewithal for the military assault on that country," marvels David Armstrong, a defense analyst at the National Security News Service. A smart and/or decent president would have picked a civilian for a civil administration post.

Then Bush slips a $680 million contract to the Bechtel Group. The deal puts the company in position to receive a big part of the $100 billion estimated total cost of Iraqi reconstruction. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bechtel gave Republican candidates, including Bush, about $765,000 in PAC, soft money and individual campaign contributions between 1999 and 2002.

Finally, refusing to accept bids from potential competitors, Bush grants a two-year, $490 million contract for Iraqi oil field repairs to Halliburton Co., the Houston-based company where Vice President Dick Cheney worked as CEO from 1995 to 2000. "It will look a lot worse if Halliburton gets the USAID [Agency for International Development] contract, too," Bathsheba Crocker, an Iraq specialist for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, warned in March. "Then it really starts looking bad." Guess what! Halliburton has since scored a piece of that $600 million USAID contract.

Are we looking bad yet?

Only Bush's most intimate friends were invited to bid for these contracts. Even businesses based in Great Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair risked his political career to support Bush, have been excluded from a rigged process where only U.S.-based, Republican-led, Bush-connected companies need apply.

Two senior Democratic Congressmen, Henry Waxman and John Dingell, are asking the General Accounting Office to look into these sleazy kickback deals. "These ties between the vice president and Halliburton have raised concerns about whether the company has received favorable treatment from the administration," their letter reads. Well, duh. But don't count on appropriate action -- like impeachment proceedings -- from the do-nothing Dems.

Bush's right-wing Gang of Four -- Cheney, Rummy, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz -- saw Operation Iraqi Freedom as a chance to line their buddies' pockets, emasculate the Muslim world, place U.S. military bases in Russia's former sphere of influence and, according to the experts, lower the price of oil by busting OPEC.

"There will be a substantial increase in Iraqi oil production [under U.S. occupation], and I wouldn't be surprised if schemes emerged to weaken, if not destroy, OPEC," says Jumberto Calderón, former energy minister of Venezuela. Former OPEC secretary general Fadhil Chalabi (no relation to Ahmed) estimates that increased exploration could potentially double Iraq's proven reserves, which would raise production from 2.4 to 10 million barrels a day. Such Saudi-scale production would "bring OPEC to its knees," says Chalabi.

The cartel's member nations, ten of 11 of them predominantly Muslim, would suffer staggering increases in poverty as a result of falling oil revenues, plunging some into the political chaos that breeds Islamist fundamentalism. Meanwhile, the people of Iraq, whose self-flagellating Shias already make the evening news look like a rerun of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, would starve as foreign infidels raked in billions thanks to the oil beneath their land.

Time to dust off the duct tape.

Ted Rall is the author of "Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan," an analysis of the underreported Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project and the real motivations behind the war on terrorism.

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