The clandestine love story between big Western oil companies and Iraq continues to unfold. This time the New York Times digs deeper and uncovers the Bush administration’s role as Cyreno de Bergerac to big oil’s Christian de Neuvillette:
A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say.
The disclosure, coming on the eve of the contracts’ announcement, is the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq’s oil to commercial development and is likely to stoke criticism.
In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.
It is unclear how much influence their work had on the ministry’s decisions.
The advisers — who, along with the diplomatic official, spoke on condition of anonymity — say that their involvement was only to help an understaffed Iraqi ministry with technical and legal details of the contracts and that they in no way helped choose which companies got the deals.
Repeated calls to the Oil Ministry’s press office for comment were not returned.
At a time of spiraling oil prices, the no-bid contracts, in a country with some of the world’s largest untapped fields and potential for vast profits, are a rare prize to the industry. The contracts are expected to be awarded Monday to Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Total and Chevron, as well as to several smaller oil companies.
The deals have been criticized by opponents of the Iraq war, who accuse the Bush administration of working behind the scenes to ensure Western access to Iraqi oil fields even as most other oil-exporting countries have been sharply limiting the roles of international oil companies in development.
For its part, the administration has repeatedly denied steering the Iraqis toward decisions. “Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it feels that it wants to move forward in its development of its oil resources,” said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman.
Yet its difficult to believe in Iraq’s sovereignty when America’s had such a heavy hand in the rebuilding of the country, “advising” on everything from “electricity to education”, not to mention training Iraq militarily. Oh, and Halliburton being the primary company contracted to maintain and repair the country’s oil pipelines. This latest development in the role big oil will play in Iraq is no doubt going to hand opponents to the war proof that Bush’s five-year military blunder was, indeed, blood for oil. This will, no doubt, be a confirmation for those in the Middle East who believed all along that that was the case. But the Bush administration doesn’t want to listen to comments like this one from a CSIS adviser:
“We pretend it is not a centerpiece of our motivation, yet we keep confirming that it is,” Frederick D. Barton, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “And we undermine our own veracity by citing issues like sovereignty, when we have our hands right in the middle of it.”
But the questions still remain: will big media delve even deeper in this latest move of big oil and the poetic hand of the Bush administration in aiding it. To read the rest of the Times report, click here.