The real thieves of Baghdad

“I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”

—Mark Twain

Now that the shooting has mostly stopped in Iraq, attention turns to dividing the spoils. The biggest plums are the contracts for rebuilding what we have destroyed in that unfortunate country.

One of the two top contenders for this juicy piece of the pie was the Bechtel Corp. The other is Parsons group, which has Halliburton as a secondary contractor. Halliburton is Vice President Cheney’s former company and still pays him. Bechtel was awarded a $34.6 million contract to rebuild Iraq’s power generation facilities and water and sewage systems. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said the contract amount could rise to as much as $680 million over 18 months.

A new study recently released by the Institute for International Studies reveals the contents of many secret diplomatic cables and internal memos of Bechtel.

Last November, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said assertions that the Iraq war was about oil were nonsense. “It has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil,” he said.

This study, titled “Crude Vision: How Oil Interests Obscured U.S. Government Focus on Chemical Weapons Use by Saddam Hussein,” shows the close connections between the Bechtel Corp., its executives and U.S. policy toward Iraq.

It notes the key players in bringing about this war were Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other ex-Reagan administration officials Roger Robinson and Judge William B. Clark and Robert McFarlane. They all were involved in issues related to Iraqi oil as far back as the 1980s.

The study shows there was an intense effort by the Reaganites in the mid ‘80s to get the approval of Saddam for a $2 billion oil pipeline to be built by Bechtel. It would link the Euphrates oilfields in southern Iraq to Jordan and then to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Rumsfeld, who was CEO of the pharmaceutical giant Searles at the time, was a chief player in trying to jell that deal.

One memo discusses his trip to Iraq, supposedly to discuss the Iran-Iraq war, which was in progress then. Rumsfeld, as a special White House peace envoy, met with Saddam and his foreign minister, Tarik Aziz.

But the memo shows they did not discuss the war, but the proposed Aqaba pipeline. Rumsfeld’s memo went to George Schultz, then secretary of state. Schultz was a former president of Bechtel.

One of the authors of the study was Jim Valette. He said he and others on this project were looking at links between private corporations and the federal government in the pursuit of oil worldwide since 1995.

Valette said they examined the deployment of U.S. troops and paramilitaries globally and especially in Iraq. “…The most serious conflict of interest is Iraq,” he said. “In the course of that research, we saw that it is the beginning and end of the story of American efforts to gain control of Iraq’s oilfields, the beginning being Rumsfeld’s meeting with Saddam Hussein in December 1983 to the end, which was the Independent Counsel’s investigation of the Attorney General (at the time Edwin Meese) and his relationship with one of the brokers of the pipeline, E. Robert Wallachs.”

Valette said it was a real surprise to discover how interwoven Bechtel’s interests were with the Reagan administration.

He said even though these things happened 20 years ago, they are timely because Bechtel is back and is the winner of the contract to rebuild Iraq, and many of the Reagan officials are back and ready to grab Iraq’s oil.

Valette said the pipeline was the focus of U.S.-Iraq relations for several years and that Rumsfeld had acted as sort of a bagman for Bechtel in his talks with Saddam.

But in July 1985, Bechtel had run into some trouble with Saddam. The dictator feared any such pipeline would be attacked by Israel. The Israelis were not very reassuring on that score. Bechtel needed someone to calm Saddam’s fears and get the pipeline started.

Pipeline promoters hired Judge Jim Clark, considered Reagan’s right-hand man. He had exited government for private business but came back for a paltry fee of $500 an hour. There is a memorandum stating that fee and that he would be going to Baghdad as a White House representative.

“That memorandum,” said Valette, “which is available on our Web site shows how blurry that revolving door had become. He’s working for the government while he’s simultaneously getting paid as an agent for Bechtel.”

The Aqaba pipeline was never built; Saddam thought Bechtel wanted too much money. He went another way.

George Bush Sr. declared the free flow of oil to be a matter of national security. Last August, Vice President Cheney raised the image of Saddam using his weapons of mass destruction to threaten that supply.

Saddam was using those very weapons in his war with Iran. The logical question is: why are these weapons a cause for war today when the same weapons were ignored 20 years ago?

As Valette said: “The lesson is that when it comes to oil, a dictator is friendly to the U.S. when he’s willing to do business, and he’s a mortal enemy when he is not. That’s been the driving force behind national security policy, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

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