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The scramble for oil and empire

March 28, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

ERIC RUDER shows how preparations for an occupation of Iraq run by the U.S. have exposed the real aims of this war.

EVEN BEFORE the bombs began falling, some of Corporate America's biggest companies were licking their chops at the prospect of getting the contracts to "rebuild Iraq." And they were counting on their pals in the Bush administration to deliver.

A week before the war began, the government agency in charge of these contracts--the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)--cited "urgent circumstances" in defending its decision to allow just five U.S. companies to bid for a $900 million contract.

The companies on the short list should come as no surprise. There's Bechtel--the California-based giant with operations around the world, with a number of ex-Bush Sr. administration officials signed on as "consultants." And of course, also in the running are Dick Cheney's old friends at Halliburton--the oil services company where Cheney raked in tens of millions of dollars as CEO before he left to become George W. Bush's vice presidential running mate.

Four of the five companies bidding for the contact gave $2.8 million in campaign contributions in the last two elections--68 percent of it to Republicans. But considering that the prize they're after right now is a $900 million contract, $2.8 million is chump change.

In fact, $900 million will barely cover the first six months of reconstruction, according to law professor Steven Schooner. "These are going to become brand names in Iraq," said Schooner. "That's huge."

Many billions of dollars are at stake--and not just in reconstruction contracts. "When this conflict is resolved, it's going to be time to award our friends and stick it to our enemies," said Ken Allard, a former U.S. Army colonel who's now a professor at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies. "It's going to be the U.S. bearing the cost of the cleanup and repairs. It's going to choose who gets those contracts."

But it's misleading to say that the U.S. will "bear the cost." As Bush administration officials have repeatedly said, they plan to use Iraqi oil revenue to finance reconstruction. It's like a huge corporate welfare project--where the beneficiaries will be handpicked U.S. corporations.

Then there's the question of oil. "Regime change in Baghdad would reshuffle the cards and give U.S. (and British) companies a good shot at direct access to Iraqi oil fields for the first time in 30 years--a windfall worth hundreds of billions of dollars," said Michael Renner, a researcher at WorldWatch Institute.

This is a major reason why France opposed the U.S.-led war drive against Iraq--and is again threatening to veto United Nations resolutions that would authorize the U.S. and Britain to administer the country after the war.

France had negotiated oil deals with Iraq that would have allowed French firms access to about 20 percent of the country's vast oil reserves. Now those contracts are sure to be voided. The same goes for firms in any country that U.S. officials decide wasn't a strong enough supporter of the war.

"It's a big political football," said Mike Miller, chief executive of Safety Boss, a firm that specializes in capping burning oil wells. "We could be left out because we're in Canada."

Coalition of the conquered

U.S. OFFICIALS have been scrambling to portray their war as something other than a unilateral assault for oil and empire. The State Department claims that more than 30 countries have joined the "coalition of the willing" to support the war.

Aside from Britain and Spain--former imperial powers reduced to playing the role of poodle and lap dog to the U.S. pit bull--the list reads more like a "coalition of the conquered." Nearly half are Eastern European countries that were once satellites of the former USSR. Now their governments, which once worshipped Stalin, love U.S. military might.

Then there are the Central American countries of Nicaragua and El Salvador. Nicaragua is governed by right wingers who came to power after 10 years of a U.S.-backed guerrilla war against the former left-wing Sandinista government. And El Salvador is still run by the same butchers connected to the death squad atrocities of the 1970s and '80s.

The only other country in Latin America on the list--a region where the U.S. is accustomed to getting its way--is Colombia, where the U.S. has fueled a dirty war against left-wing rebels. Also included in the "coalition" is Afghanistan, where the U.S. handpicked a government after a blistering air war.

The State Department put Turkey on the list--even though Turkey dealt the U.S. a stunning blow by refusing to allow U.S. ground troops to enter Iraq through its territory. "Turkey was included in the 'coalition,' even though it has still to agree to cooperate," Britain's Guardian newspaper noted.

Beyond the 30 countries that the State Department will list, there are 15 more who, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell, "do not yet wish to be publicly named." We'll call them the "coalition of the anonymous."

George Will discovers the toll of sanctions

RIGHT-WING windbag commentator George Will discovered a new cause last week. "The United Nations (UN) itself estimates that the current UN policy of trying to contain Saddam with economic sanctions kills 5,000 Iraqi children under five years old every month," said Will on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Why is Will, a pro-war cheerleader, suddenly noticing the brutal toll of the sanctions? He's cynically exploiting the issue to claim that Bush's war will save lives. "Another 10 years of containment would involve the slaughter of at least another 360,000 Iraqis--240,000 of them children under five."

What nauseating hypocrisy. Just last August, Will wrote approvingly, "Because of economic sanctions, among other things, Iraq's military is less formidable today." Will was trying to downplay what human rights advocates and antiwar organizers have argued for years--that sanctions against Iraq are a "weapon of mass destruction."

Will and the rest of the pro-war pundits have no shame. They'll use all manner of lies and distortions to justify their war for oil and empire.

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