October 19, 2006

Blood For Oil

Part Two of Josh Holland's great work at Alternet, Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil, looks closely at the IMF's involvement:
The IMF agreement was announced in December of 2005, along with a new $685 million IMF loan that was to be used, in part, to increase Iraq's oil output. The announcement came a month after Iraqis went to the polls to vote for their first government under the new Constitution in order, according to the Washington Post, to spare Iraqi "politicians from voters' wrath." That was a wise idea; immediately following the agreement, gas prices skyrocketed and Iraqis rioted.

The icing on the cake is that the deal James Baker negotiated with the Paris Club refers to Iraq as an "exceptional situation"; no precedent was set that would allow other highly indebted countries saddled with odious debt from their own past dictators to claim similar relief.

The deadline the Iraqi government must meet for the completion of its final oil law in December is a "benchmark" in the IMF agreement.

In an investigation for the Nation, Naomi Klein discovered that Baker had pursued his mission with an eye-popping conflict of interest. Klein discovered that a consortium that included the Carlyle Group, of which Baker is believed to have a $180 million stake, had contracted with Kuwait to make sure that the money it was owed by Iraq would be excluded from any debt-relief package. When Baker met with the Kuwaiti emir to beg forgiveness for Iraq's odious debt, he had a direct interest in making sure he didn't get it.

Another major creditor was Saudi Arabia. The Carlyle Group has extensive business dealings with the kingdom and Baker's law firm, Baker Botts, was representing the monarchy in a suit brought by the families of the victims of 9/11.
Ah, James Baker, the man who is now mysteriously softening up the US electorate by promising some kind of unspecified change in US policy towards Iraq... just around the corner... beyond November 7th! (Clap your hands and say it: "I believe!").

Here's is another interesting excerpt:
According to Platform, just weeks after the invasion, in a meeting with oil company execs and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in London, former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind promised to personally lobby Dick Cheney for contracts on behalf of several firms, including Shell.
The link leads to a PLATFORM article which says:
Rifkind, who was director of international strategy at BHP Billiton, made the promise when he met with oil company executives and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in London in May 2003. The minutes of the meeting have now been published by Australia’s Cole Inquiry into corruption in the Oil for Food Programme...

The Australian oil and mining company BHP Billiton had “substantially agreed” commercial terms for developing the Halfaya oilfield with the Saddam Hussein government in 1997, but had not proceeded with the project due to international sanctions. The company had later entered an agreement with oil supermajor Shell, in which the two companies would each take 40 percent of the deal.

Following the war and the end of sanctions, the companies looked to obtain a contract for the field. With up to five billion barrels of reserves, this single field in the south of Iraq contains more oil than the whole of the UK North Sea.

The meeting notes also reveal that Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer agreed to raise the issue with US administrator Paul Bremer and with Iraqi officials.
As regular readers know, BHP Billiton is likely to escape any serious criticism in the Cole whitewash. Alexander Downer also looks set to stay afloat politically, for now at least, despite a barrage of circumstantial evidence that he knew all about the AWB's bribes to Saddam.

It's enough to make a man cynical, watching the same old dirty players strut the stage, again and again and again:
Early on, in 2003, USAID commissioned BearingPoint, Inc. -- the new name for the scandal-plagued Arthur Anderson Consulting -- to submit recommendations for the development of Iraq's oil sector. BearingPoint was the firm that designed the country's economic transformation under a previous USAID contract, so it was no surprise that its report reinforced the preference for PSAs that "everybody [kept] kept coming back to" during meetings of the State Department's "Future of Iraq Project."

In February, just months after the Iraqis elected their first constitutional government, USAID sent a BearingPoint adviser to provide the Iraqi Oil Ministry "legal and regulatory advice in drafting the framework of petroleum and other energy-related legislation, including foreign investment." According to Muttit, the Iraqi Parliament had not yet seen a draft of the oil law as of July, but by that time it had already been reviewed and commented on by U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, who also "arranged for Dr. Al-Shahristani to meet with nine major oil companies -- including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips -- for them to comment on the draft."

All of these points of pressure are only what we can see in the light of day. There is certainly much more occurring under the table...
The good news (if you want to see it that way) is that Big Oil has not been able to complete their stitch-up of Iraq just yet:
The same day that the U.N. legitimized the occupation, George Bush signed Executive Order 13303 providing full legal immunity to all oil companies doing business in Iraq in order to facilitate the country's "orderly reconstruction."

Yet, despite a five-year effort, Big Oil still sits on the sidelines, wary of the disorder and violence that's plagued the country...

At this point, the situation is very fluid...

It's possible that the administration and its partners badly overplayed their hand. Iraq's new government stands on the verge of a complete meltdown, faced with a crisis of legitimacy based largely on the fact that it is seen as collaborating with American forces... The passage of a sweetheart oil law could prove to be a tipping point.
In conclusion:
What is clear is that the future of Iraq ultimately hinges to a great degree on the outcome of a complex game of chess -- only part of which is out in the open -- that is playing out right now, and oil is at the center of it. It's equally clear that there's a yawning disconnect between Iraqis' and Americans' views of the situation. Erik Leaver, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, told me that the disposition of Iraq's oil wealth is "definitely causing problems on the ground," but the entire topic is taboo in polite D.C. circles. "Nobody in Washington wants to talk about it," he said. "They don't want to sound like freaks talking about blood for oil." At the same time, a recent poll asked Iraqis what they believed was the main reason for the invasion and 76 percent gave "to control Iraqi oil" as their first choice.


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