As Iraq death toll rises, so do war profits
by Tim Wheeler As the roster of dead and wounded in Iraq grows longer, George W Bush is pleading that the people of the US stay the course despite admissions by his administration that the occupation has become a "long, hard slog". But Bush faces tough questions, including this one: Why does he demand the ultimate sacrifice from our nation's [US] working- class youth while his wealthy contributors make no sacrifice at all? On the contrary, Halliburton and Bechtel, with crony ties to the Bush White House, have reaped a bonanza in war profits. Are US soldiers and countless Iraqis dying to insure blood money for Halliburton, and its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR)? How much of the USUS$87 billion just approved by Congress for Iraq will end up in the coffers of Chevron-Texaco, and JP Morgan, two other Iraq contractors? Halliburton-KBR, the Houston-based oil-field equipment corporation, secured a US$2.3 billion no-bid, cost-plus contract for the so-called "reconstruction of Iraq", the largest single contract awarded so far. The trail of money and death leads to Halliburton's former CEO, Dick Cheney, who received a US$33 million severance package when he stepped down to become Bush's running mate. Cheney is still receiving deferred payments from the corporation, a case of cashing in on the death and misery of US military personnel deployed in Iraq. Similar corrupt deals in Iraq have been granted to the Bechtel Corporation (US$1.03 billion), International American Products (US$527 million), Perini Corp. (US$525 million), Fluor (US$500 million), and the Washington Group International (US$500 million). The CBS news program, 60 Minutes, carried a feature story on Halliburton. The program pointed out that many of the key decisions in the Iraq war and its aftermath have been made by the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board (DPB). The 30 members of this secretive body "are a 'Who's Who' of former government and senior military officials. . Nine have ties to corporations that have won US$76 billion in defence contracts in just two years." Among the DPB members are Richard Perle, who has longstanding ties to Boeing, and retired General Jack Sheehan, Vice President of the Bechtel Corp. Neo-conservatives such as Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, and the DPB have played the central role in drawing up and implementing the pre-emptive and unilateral war strategy against Iraq. One of the principal motives for the unilateralism was to oust France, Germany, and Russia, each of which had billions of dollars in Iraqi investments, and to hand these juicy plums over to Bush-connected US corporations. Iraq holds the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. A windfall in Bush's election coffers The Centre For Public Integrity released a report October 30, titled Windfalls of War: US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report charges that 70 US corporations with US$8 billion in no-bid contracts in Iraq have donated US$500,000 to the Bush 2004 election campaign (cheap at the price). Since 1990, the report adds, these same companies have poured US$49 million into the coffers of mostly Republican candidates for federal and state political office. Chevron-Texaco, listed in the report as a major US government contractor and Republican donor, joined five other international oil companies selected by the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organisation to market Iraqi oil. JP Morgan, the nation's second largest bank, which was implicated in the Enron scandal, has been contracted by the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to run a consortium of 13 banks that will constitute the Trade Bank of Iraq. A White House cover-up The Centre charged that they were hampered in their research by administration secretiveness and stonewalling. Many of the contracts have been classified secret in the name of national security, a perfect cover for corporate and government thievery. But the people are paying with their tax dollars and their sons' and daughters' blood, and understandably demand to know how their money is being spent in Iraq. During debate on the administration's request for US$87 billion for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, October 15, Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform said, "There is growing evidence that favoured contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel are getting sweetheart deals that are costing the taxpayers a bundle but delivering scant results". Waxman cited a deal in which Halliburton was paid US$162.5 million by the Pentagon in the six months since the war ended to truck 61 million gallons of gasoline from Kuwait into Iraq, at about US$2.65 per gallon. The gas was then sold in Iraq for 4-15 cents per gallon. The difference was made up by US taxpayers. Waxman and Democrat Representative John Dingell wrote a joint letter to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in her new position as overseer of the Iraq occupation. "The US Government is paying nearly three times more for gasoline from Kuwait than it should and is then reselling this gasoline at a huge loss inside Iraq", they wrote. "Whether this is due to incompetence, malfeasance, or some other reason, the waste of taxpayer dollars must be stopped." Waxman and Dingell point out that Bush requested US$900 million for "fuel imports" in the US$87 billion Iraq aid package. The big Iraqi oil grab In a letter dated May 2, Lt General Robert B Flowers of the US Army Corps of Engineers which is handling the Iraqi contracts informed Waxman that the Bush administration was preparing a new contract to replace the original US$2.3 billion Halliburton deal. This new plan would be "long term" and involve not only extinguishing oil well fires and repair of Iraqi oilfield equipment. It would also put Halliburton in charge of "operation" of Iraqi oilfields and "distribution" of Iraqi oil. The real value of this contract to Halliburton would be at least US$7 billion. Waxman fired off a reply to Flowers: "These new disclosures are significant and seem at odds with the administration's repeated assurances that Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people", he wrote. Two members of the Iraqi Governing Council met in Washington with Waxman staff members, telling them, "the costs to the American taxpayer of many reconstruction projects could be reduced by 90 percent if the contracts were awarded to local Iraqi companies rather than to large government contractors like Halliburton or Bechtel". He cites as an example a war-idled cement plant in Northern Iraq. Major General David Petraeus announced it would cost US$15 million to reopen the plant if the job were assigned to Bechtel. But Iraqis restored production for US$80,000. Privatising Iraq New laws drafted by Bush's Iraq czar, Paul Bremer, and unveiled September 21, allow foreign investors to own 100 percent of any Iraqi assets and to remit profits and royalties when they choose. A key adviser to Bremer is Wall Street investor, Tom Foley, a generous Bush contributor. He cooked up a scheme to invite 14 Eastern European finance officials to Baghdad to give advice about privatisation. They included the notorious Yegor Gaidar, who presided over the Russian mass privatisations of the early 1990s, Moscow News reports. As if on cue, Iraq's new oil Minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, handpicked by the Bush administration, announced that his main aim is privatisation of Iraqi oil. Stop the looting, bring the troops home! Iraq war profiteering is stirring a backlash in the US among families angry that their sons and daughters have been placed in harm's way to enrich Cheney and his ilk. The Institute for Southern Studies, based in Durham, NC, recently unveiled its "Stop the War Profiteers Campaign". Supporters are invited to sign an online petition. (see below for address) The petition demands that Congress investigate the war profiteering, enact an "excess profits tax" on the profiteers, and end the "corporate take-over and selling off of Iraq's industry and resources . that they be returned immediately to the Iraqi people." Dr Rania Masri, a co-ordinator of the campaign, declares, "A handful of Bush-connected corporations are poised to make billions in profits while US troops are killed almost daily and Iraq plunges deeper into a colonial nightmare. Halliburton, Bechtel, MCI and other war profiteers are part of a larger invasion by outside corporate interests hoping to control the wealth and resources of Iraq wealth and resources that belong to the Iraqi people." So far, 600 organisations, including Veterans for Peace, New York Labor Against the War, Global Exchange and United for Peace and Justice, as well as authors Noam Chomsky, Jim Hightower and Howard Zinn, have signed on to the campaign's founding statement. Democrat Representative Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic presidential contender, has also spoken out against the war profiteering. In his announcement speech October 13 in Cleveland he laid out his plan to end the war: "Number one, that the UN will handle all the oil assets on behalf of the Iraqi people with no privatisation. Number two, that the UN will handle the contracts. No more Halliburton sweetheart deals. No more war profiteers, no more contracts going to political contributors of the administration. . We need to bring the UN in and bring our troops home." If you have access to the Internet, sign-on to http://www.southernstudies.org, and add your name to the petition.
* * *People's Weekly World, paper of Communist Party USA. Abridged, for full text visit: http://www.pww.org