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Bush, oil and the Iraq war

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By: Ralph Shaw

The real reason the US invaded Iraq was that Mr Bush’s clients – the oil companies – wanted a piece of the Iraqi crude oil business. With Saddam in power and Iraqi oil nationalised, the US and British oil companies had little hope of becoming part of the lucrative Iraqi crude oil production business

Many political observers have long claimed that big corporations and moneyed interests have hijacked the American democracy. They contend that representative democracy in the US is only a farce and that, in reality, a culture of political patronage and deal-making flourishes in which there is no real accountability to the governed. The elected representatives, especially the ones at the top, are helped into power by powerful business interests and, once there, they serve their clients rather than their constituents. It might appear cynical, but a critical look at the last Iraq War certainly gives credence to this view.

It is no secret that George W Bush’s presidential campaign was heavily financed by the US oil industry. Centre for Responsive Politics – a non-profit organisation – estimates that oil and gas firms with donations totalling around $ 1.89 million were among the top 10 contributors. The presidential inaugural committee received another million from the same group and the contributions by individuals connected with the oil industry, though comparatively less in amount, were in addition. In fact, Mr Bush’s indebtedness to this special interest group went way back to his gubernatorial campaigns. He received more than $ 0.5 million for each of his 1994 and 1998 campaigns for governor of Texas.

Bush was not the only member of his administration who had strong ties to the oil and gas companies. Vice President Dick Cheney amassed tens of millions of dollars as head of Halliburton Oil Company. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans was head of Tom Brown Incorporated and held up to $ 25 million in the oil exploration company. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was one of the directors at Chevron. There is something mystifying in the prescient announcement by BBC News on January 29, 2001 that said, “The concentration of energy connections is so pronounced that some critics are calling the Bush government ‘the oil and gas administration’.” It went on to state that there were concerns that the private financial interests of the cabinet members could influence future US energy policy decisions and that exactly is what seems to have transpired.

The argument that military action against Iraq was motivated by a desire to assure continued cheap supply of oil to the US is rather flimsy. Having been defanged by military and economic sanctions after the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was in no position to influence either the supply or the price of oil in any significant manner. UN sanctions limited the amount of oil Iraq could sell and part of the $ 16 billion generated from oil sales went to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia by way of war reparations for the first Gulf War. Such straitened circumstances left little room for adventurism on the part of the Iraqi dictator. With the US already monitoring much of the Iraqi air space, Saddam knew that disrupting oil supplies or adopting a belligerent policy toward his neighbours would lead to swift retribution. If the invasion did happen in the interest of the US economy, as some claim, it was a colossal failure. Oil prices rose for several years after the war. Just before the start of hostilities on March 20, 2003, oil was trading at a little more than $ 30 a barrel. In the next three years the price doubled.

The real reason the US invaded Iraq was that Mr Bush’s clients – the oil companies – wanted a piece of the Iraqi crude oil business. With Saddam in power and Iraqi oil nationalised, the US and British oil companies had little hope of becoming part of the lucrative Iraqi crude oil production business. British and US companies had been specifically shut out by Saddam Hussein from oil production contracts. Out of the 60 companies negotiating oil contracts with Iraq, none were British or US. Chinese, Russian and French companies were negotiating the largest contracts. However, the contracts could take effect only if the UN sanctions were removed. Had that happened, the French and others would have benefited enormously to the detriment of the British and the American.

Consequently, the decision to go after Iraq predated any terrorist attack on US soil. The attack simply provided a convenient pretext to push the oil companies’ agenda forward with relative impunity. The post-war unsuccessful Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), designed to give oil companies enormous control over Iraqi oil, made one journalist comment that the attempt was “the biggest rip off of resources since the British barged into Mesopotamia more than a century ago”.

So it was in the interests of the big oil companies to go to war and it was sold to the various stakeholders with a marketing pitch suited to their needs and sensibilities. To the US public it was marketed as a national security issue. A non-existent link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was established.

One cannot but help marvel at the evil genius of the US war plotters at obfuscating the real issues driving the US policy towards Iraq. Iraq’s vast oil resources and avarice of the US oil companies never took centre-stage in the public debates over the war with Iraq. The rage was all about Saddam’s WMDs, his terrorist links and the phony threat to US cities. Reporters from the prestigious New York Times were either bought or duped into writing false stories in their influential newspaper and reluctant cabinet members such as Colin Powell were dragged into the administration’s web of lies because their credibility was the currency needed to buy support for war at home and abroad. Time and skilful research by a host of investigative reporters have exposed the blatant lies, half-truths, exaggerations, and deceptions that led to the destruction of a Muslim country. The least the US can do is apologise to the Iraqi people for the wanton destruction it inflicted upon them in the interests of US and British oil companies.

Ralph Shaw is the pen name of a freelance writer, who lives and works in Pakistan. He can be reached at ralpshaw11@gmail.com

Ball has begun to roll in favour of Pakistan

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By Asif Haroon Raja

When Pak Army troops moved into South Waziristan in 2002 for the first time at the behest of Washington to hunt and flush out foreign elements, it offended the militant tribesmen living peacefully and they decided to confront the Army.

The ensuing clash led to organized resistance resulting in inflaming all seven agencies of FATA, greater part of NWFP and even Punjab. Balochistan was also lit up by sowing seeds of separatism among the Baloch. Pak Army thus got engaged in fighting its own people and both sides started to bleed each other as a result of which centre of gravity of terrorism shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Hundreds of terrorist attacks, suicide and bomb attacks have taken place resulting in phenomenal human and material losses. Fighting US dictated war on terror made Musharraf popular in USA, western world and India but he became unpopular in Pakistan since he was seen as a puppet of Bush. This factor together with lawyers’ movement paved the way for his expulsion from power. One big favour he bestowed upon Pakistan was to hand over Army Chief’s hat to Gen Ashfaq Kayani.

Different people proudly lay claim on ouster of Gen Musharraf. Some say it was lawyers’ movement which forced him to quit while others maintain that it was defiance of chief justice Iftikhar which set the ball rolling. PPP claim that sagacity and adroitness of Benazir forced him to shed his second hat of army chief and to announce elections. Others say that it was Zardari who played his cards shrewdly to make him abdicate power. Notwithstanding the genuineness of these claims since each one did play a part in weakening the dictator, the fact of the matter is that the US played a role in his elevation to the rank of COAS. He also captured total power with tacit blessing of US. He remained in power for nine years since he served the American interests faithfully. He could have easily continued to stay in power for another five years if the US had not lost interest in him after he became reluctant and less obliging to fulfill certain sensitive demands of USA which tended to cross the red line.

He was with them as long as the war was confined to terrorists and extremists. When he realized that the US was more friendly with India and was giving very less and demanding much more and had sinister designs against core interests of Pakistan he became cautious. When pressed to open up nuclear program for IAEA inspection, hand over Dr. AQ Khan for interrogation and rollback nuclear program he regretted that it was not within his capability to oblige. He knew that it could not only compromise the position of Army leadership but also evoke public wrath. He took effective measures to defang AQ Khan Network and to safeguard nuclear assets. He avoided going full hog against extremists in FATA and Swat and believed in policy of peace deals.

When he was asked to stop military operation in Balochistan, cancel Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, oust China from Gwadar development, and shift bulk of troops towards western border, he started to drag his feet to buy time. He expressed his inability to meet their requirements under the plea of strong backlash within armed forces and cautioned them that it would make his position untenable. Earlier on, he had expressed his reluctance to allow Benazir to return to Pakistan but gave in to US demand only when he came under increasing pressure of lawyers’ movement. He was therefore forced by circumstances to team up with Benazir to fill the political void and jointly perform the final act of denuclearization and de-Islamisation of Pakistan.

To the horror of plot makers, they found Benazir on whom they had hinged high hopes playing a shrewd game. A sudden change had come in her disposition once she landed at Karachi airport on 18 October 2007 and saw unprecedented rousing reception accorded to her by her fans. The tears she shed were genuine. Whatever understanding she had given to her sponsors during her exile were set aside after the gory blasts in her caravan on the same night in which hundreds of Jyalas were cut to pieces. The schemers had planned the attack with the objective of swaying public opinion against the Taliban and build sympathy for her but it backfired since she learnt that the blasts, claimed as suicide attacks, were not executed by Baitullah’s men.

She cooked her goose when she locked horns with Musharraf in November and raised slogans in favor of deposed chief justice. Return of Sharif brothers from forced exile and assassination of Benazir on 27 December scuttled US plan to carve out a dream team of liberal parties only.

Plan Bravo was put into motion and Zardari brought on the centre stage from nowhere to do US bidding. Musharraf was shown the door and Zardari brought in his place. National Assembly was again turned into a rubber stamp and all powers were concentrated in hands of NRO cleansed Zardari and US appointed persons holding key appointments. With his tail firmly in the hands of Washington, he was pressed to do what Musharraf could not do.

The period from 2008 till early 2010 was extremely onerous because of worsening state of security, collapsing economy and messy political situation. The challenging moments were: (1) When the US came out with its wish to place ISI under Ministry of Interior; in other words under direct control of Washington. Its fault was that it had hampered CIA- RAW’s activities. (2) Joint control of nuclear assets so as to determine secret locations of nukes and to take them under control. (3) Pakistan pressured to allow India to carryout surgical strikes on suspected targets inside Pakistan territory after Mumbai carnage and to hand over suspects to India. Air strikes from the east together with drone attacks from the west would have enabled India and USA to destroy nuclear plants. (4) Threat from Indian forces along eastern front, pressures from turbulent western border and resurgent local militants. Multiple external and internal threats posed a serious dilemma to military. (5) Dismissal of Punjab Ministry and imposition of governor rule. Idea was to destabilize the only province which was relatively stable. (6) Reinstatement of deposed judges blocked so as to keep US handpicked rulers in power. (7) Desire by US-NATO troops to barge into FATA and carryout joint operations with Pak troops. As a minimum, carryout air strikes in addition to drone strikes and ground raids. Intention was to gain a toehold and then keep creeping forward. (8) Kerry Lugar Bill, which virtually meant to rob Pakistan of its honor and sovereignty. (9) Settlement of Kashmir dispute on Indian terms. (10) Convincing Pakistan to accept India as a harmless friend posing no threat. (11) Forcing Pak Army to thin out troops from eastern border and launch simultaneous operations in Swat, South and North Waziristan. (12) Confronting foreign aided militants in Malakand Division, Swat and South Waziristan. It would have been catastrophic if these battles had turned into a stalemate. (13) Intense Indo-US-western propaganda to undermine Pakistan.

Much to the chagrin and frustration of plot makers, the Army under Kayani together with air force pilots, ISI under Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, judiciary under Chief Justice Iftikhar, lawyers community, vibrant civil society and independent media came in the way of those inclined to barter away national interests. These institutions blocked each and every menacing move impinging upon national security and managed to take the country out of turbulent waters.

Their combined efforts helped in frustrating evil designs of adversaries of Pakistan and in bringing a positive change in the attitudes of US leaders.

Notwithstanding that no dramatic breakthroughs were achieved on any of the major points concerning Kashmir and water disputes with India and civil nuclear energy deal similar to Indo-US deal in the recently concluded strategic dialogue, however, a good beginning has been made. Master coordinator has been compelled by circumstances to take its hands off Pakistan.

The US is now trying to restrain India, Afghanistan and Israel to put on hold its subversive activities against Pakistan for the time being. Although Pakistan is not completely off the hook, worst seems to be over and the ball has begun to roll in favor of Pakistan.