Open for dirty business

Iraq is the trough where the pigs go to feed, and in its oil fields, the pigs wallow.

War and business go hand in hand. Someone needs to do the killing. Someone needs to do the dying. Someone needs to make the money. Iraq is a prime example of this. President George W. Bush and his accountants might as well be working in sewers for their part of the dirty business.

This is pointed out a lot, and rightfully so. But before the war, profits had to be made, too. Frequently left out is that French, Russian and Chinese businesses, among others, profited handsomely from purchasing Iraqi oil before the war. Saddam Hussein profited.

A May 2002 Wall Street Journal article first laid out the scheme in which corporations and Saddam’s regime made billions of dollars. Last week, a report from CIA weapons inspector Charles Duelfer’s Iraq Survey Group supported those claims. The report shows Saddam made approximately $11 billion selling oil below market price and earning back the difference by kickbacks.

All oil sold by Iraq had to be sold through a U.N. oil-for-food program. The United Nations gave too much power over the oil to Iraq and didn’t really put forth an effort to enforce the laws at hand. Originally designed to help the Iraqi people, the program primarily flushed Saddam’s pockets with cash. It seems all U.N. countries, for and against the war, were funding a dictator.

Dirty business is truly a global concept. While the French, Russians and Chinese were granting political favors for Iraq, their companies were profiting as well. Of course, they are now all up in arms, denying their part in supporting Saddam. But in the United States, where supporting dictators has been more politically acceptable than supporting the poor, the government hasn’t blinked at the notion that it too supported Saddam.

The United States can be proud of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Texaco Corp. and Valero Energy Corp. for profiting handsomely from cooperating with Saddam’s middlemen via the oil-for-food program. Half the oil exported from Iraq was sent through U.S. companies.

As far as politics go, the corruption of the oil-for-food program was bipartisan. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations encouraged using the program in the name of helping the Iraqi people.

In the end, none of the major players in Iraq come out righteous. None had the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. Leaders worried about politics. Chief executive officers worried about profits. The oil-for-food program kept Saddam’s regime from collapsing and Iraqi citizens barely alive by doing so.

The dirty business in Iraq still continues. Exclusive contracts have been awarded to U.S. companies. Cost overruns are the norm, not the exception. Halliburton Co. continues to be in the news for stealing taxpayer dollars. No-bid contracts have already been handed out. Foreign businesses have not been allowed to compete for some contracts. The people who could benefit the most from a sincere effort to rebuild Iraq – Iraqi-owned businesses – have been awarded few orders for work. Iraq is the trough where the pigs go to feed, and in its oil fields, the pigs wallow.

The blame can be spread all around. Somewhere down the line, the blame is probably on you, my dear reader. Drive a car? Ride a bus? Need gas? It’s more than possible that gas came as a result of Iraqi oil. You’ve been supporting a dictator, just as the French.

Karl Noyes is the senior editorial board member. He welcomes comments at [email protected]