Blackwater and Oil Show Administration's M.O. in Iraq

Jeremy Scahill, author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, was on CNN September 17 after the news broke that the military contractor had been kicked out of Iraq for its role in the deaths of 8 Iraqi civilians.

The story of Blackwater, Scahill explained, is the story of the Bush war in Iraq. "Bush failed to build a coalition of willing nations" at the beginning of the war, Scahill told CNN. So instead the President build a "coalition of willing corporations" or war profiteers, including Blackwater.

What Scahill calls the "mercenary component" of this corporate cabal is completely unaccountable-operating a shadow war in which the finances and even the body counts of private contractors go unreported to Congress or the press.

And if Bush has, as Scahill says, overseen "the greatest privatization of warfare in history," he has also led us into a war in which profiteers-from thugs and looters to multinational corporations-are fighting over the spoils, to the detriment of American citizens and the Iraqi people.

A story in the Christian Science Monitor on September 19 describes the bleak situation in Basra as the British military withdraws and corrupt public officials, organized crime, and the Americans' friends in the Baghdad government fight over oil production.

According to the Monitor, Iraq has about 20 percent of Middle East oil reserves, more than half of it exported from Basra. But production has taken a big hit since the war began.

The Monitor cites Muhammad-Ali Zainy, an Iraqi oil economist, who "says Baghdad has its priorities upside down. It's making a mistake by 'rushing' to approve a new oil law, which would open up the sector to foreign investors, as urged by Washington. Instead, he says, Baghdad should first focus on adding value to the sector by increasing production, stamping out corruption and theft, and re-creating the Iraqi National Oil Company."

"The timing is wrong ... they are rushing to have the oil law ratified just in order to please the American administration," Zainy says.

Part of the fault for the disarray in Iraq's oil industry, according to Zainy, lies with the U.S. contractor KBR, which did a lousy job fulfilling its contractual mission to increase production after the U.S. invasion.

Deep distrust of U.S. intentions toward Iraqi oil has made the American-backed privatization bill bitterly controversial.

"The industry's main labor union based in Basra says it will order a general strike should the oil law passes," the Monitor reports.

"We believe one of the main reasons America invaded is oil," says the union's head, Hassan Jumaa al-Assadi. "The law does not serve the people of Iraq but the US administration."

Iraqi unionists are not the only ones who harbor such suspicions.

Former Democratic Presidential candidate Gary Hart tells Sam Graham-Felsen in an Alternet piece "Operation: Enduring Presence" that the permanent bases the U.S. military is building in Iraq-which have received precious little mainstream media coverage, even as Congress debates a U.S. plan for withdrawal-show that the US always intended to stay in Iraq to secure oil supplies there.

"Either you are leaving or you are not," Hart says. "If you are leaving you don't need fixed facilities. If you are not planning to leave, you convert trench latrines and tents into fabricated steel and pour concrete runways. One is removable and the other one is not. And it's pretty simple -- if you are pouring concrete runways and welding steel, you plan to be there for a while."

Democrats are loath to make an issue of the bases for fear of criticizing fortified buildings that may enhance security for U.S. troops, Graham Felsen reports. But the nature of these facilities show more than any political speech that the U.S. intends to maintain a presence in Iraq for a long, long time.

One Democrat who has actively spoken out, both about the permanent bases and about the unseemly nature of corporate interests in Iraq, is Ohio Congressman and leftwing Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich gave a speech on the House floor on September 19 calling for a Congressional investigation into the Hunt Oil Company-Kurdistan oil deal:

"Hunt Oil, a privately held oil company based in Texas and its founder, Ray Hunt, have close ties to Vice President Cheney and are large donors to President Bush," he pointed out. "As I have said for five years, this war is about oil. The Bush Administration desires private control of Iraqi oil, but we have no right to force Iraq to give up control of their oil. We have no right to set preconditions to Iraq which lead Iraq to giving up control of their oil. The Constitution of Iraq designates that the oil of Iraq is the property for all Iraqi people.

"I am calling for a Congressional investigation to determine the role the Administration may have played in the Hunt-Kurdistan deal, the effect the deal will have on the oil revenue sharing plan and the attempt by the Administration to privatize Iraqi oil."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military continues building permanent bases on top of Iraq's massive oil reserve. As Jeremy Scahill puts it, "war is very profitable" for certain private interests. For the regular troops, who are paying with their lives, and the taxpayers who are paying the bills, and for the Iraqi civilians living in an increasingly dangerous and ruined country, it is an unmitigated disaster.

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