repost from http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/2001799
U.S. tallied up assets well before war
Documents list Cheney group's activities
By DAVID IVANOVICH
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney was examining maps of Iraq's oil assets in March 2001, two years before the United States led an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, newly released documents show.
The documents, obtained by the public interest group Judicial Watch after a protracted court battle with the White House, show Iraq's oil fields, its major refineries and pipelines.
The papers also list companies from countries that were interested in doing business with Saddam's regime, ranging from Algeria to Vietnam.
The documents also detail oil and gas projects in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and include information on the cost and status of projects in those countries.
The context and importance of the documents remained murky Friday. They were accompanied by a series of e-mails between the State Department and the Commerce Department. The e-mails, however, had been "redacted," Judicial Watch said, and couldn't be read.
A spokeswoman for Cheney's office directed questions to the Commerce Department. A Commerce spokesman issued a brief statement late Friday, noting that the task force "evaluated regions of the world that are vital to global energy supply."
The panel's final report, issued in May 2001, "contained maps of key energy producing regions in the world, including Russia, North America, the Middle East and the Caspian region," a Commerce spokesman said.
The report also included a map of Saudi Arabia's export pipeline routes. It did not, however, discuss Iraq.
The report did recommend that President Bush support initiatives to encourage producers such as Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and other suppliers to open their energy sectors to foreign investment.
The administration left many of the key questions about the documents unanswered. And that could fuel the perception among many of the White House's critics that the war in Iraq was really a battle over oil supplies.
"Opponents of the war are going to look at the documents and say: 'Aha! This is what was on the minds of the administration in the runup to the Iraqi war,' " noted Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. "Supporters of the war will say: 'Heck. This is what the energy task force should have been doing.' "
Jill Ratner, head of the Oakland, Calif.-based Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, and a critic of the war, called the documents "a very disturbing revelation."
The papers were part of a 16-page package sent July 3 to Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group that has been wrestling with the Bush administration since April 19, 2001, to learn more about the deliberations of the Cheney task force. That panel produced a controversial road map for reducing the United States' dependence on foreign energy supplies with a call for greater domestic production.
Judicial Watch had filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to review the documents used by the panel. When the White House balked, the activist group filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington to gain access to the papers.
The administration gave Judicial Watch no explanation as to the timing of the documents' release.