How many Americans will die for oil?
August 4 2003
Is Iraq's oil good enough reason for one or two of America's 148,000 occupying forces to die in Iraq each day over the next four years?
The answer is probably no, if the growth of dissident military communities such as the "Bring Them Home Now!" lobby is any indication.
Resentment among the troops, and their families, about their being stuck in Iraq after the war has not been helped by the failure of the Bush Administration to come up with weapons of mass destruction, and President George Bush's response to reports that attacks on occupying troops were increasing ("bring 'em on").
But what would the occupying forces and their families make of Bush's executive order 13303, promulgated without fanfare in May, which gives sweeping powers to US oil companies operating in Iraq while granting immunity to them for the consequences of any of their actions in exploiting the oil.
In a report last month for the US Democratic legal think tank Government Accountability Project (GAP), the legal director, Tom Devine, said that in terms of legal liability, 13303 "cancels the concept of corporate accountability and abandons the rule of law . . . (It) is a blank cheque for corporate anarchy. Its sweeping, unqualified language places the industry above domestic and international law for anything related to commerce in Iraqi oil."
The immunity is unconstrained. The opening sentence decrees that "any judicial process" is "null and void". Section 1 (b) shields the value "of any nature whatsoever" if it is "related to" the "sale or marketing of . . . all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products" or "interests".
According to Devine: "That means all corporate activities with roots or any connection to Iraqi oil. It covers everything from extraction through transportation, advertising, manufacture, customer service, corporate records and payment of taxes. It covers compliance with contractual obligations involving Iraq that industry enters into with the US Government in postwar Iraq. The scope can be further expanded to virtually all oil-related commerce, by blending Iraqi oil with domestic supplies for any commercial transaction."
The executive order applies to US "persons" (including corporations or other organisations) who "come into possession or control" of anything relevant to Iraqi oil or oil products. Devine comments: "Translated from the legalese, this is a licence for corporations to loot Iraq and its citizens."
The order is built on UN Security Council resolution 1483, which ended sanctions against Iraq and led to the establishment of the Development Fund for Iraq - into which the $1.7 billion of Iraqi money from the UN Oil-for-Food program and all proceeds from future sales of Iraqi oil and gas will be placed.
The development fund is controlled by Paul Bremer, who is in charge of the US occupation of Iraq, and it will be overseen by a board that includes representatives of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF.
Critics of the development fund point out that the money from past and future Iraqi oil sales deposited in the fund will be used to leverage US public and private loans to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure and to develop Iraq's huge oil reserves.
According to Devine, executive order 13303 violates UN resolution 1483 rather than implementing it.
While the UN resolution granted limited immunity for oil-related reconstruction activities, it made clear these immunities did not extend beyond "the initial purchaser" for misconduct beyond "privileges and immunities enjoyed by the United Nations" and for "any legal proceedings in which recourse to such proceeds or obligations is necessary to satisfy liability for damages assessed in connection with an ecological accident, including an oil spill, that occurs after the date of the is resolution".
The companies, which will be operating on seed capital provided by Iraqi oil and the US taxpayer, will have had cancelled their civil and criminal liability abroad and domestically, as well as their normal liability for spending of US taxpayers' money.
According to Devine: "Under the executive order there is no accountability to the taxpayers for taxpayer-supported spending by . . . firms with US contracts . . . It cancels liability for civil fraud in government contracts under the False Claims Act, the most effective anti-fraud statute. In short, the order is a blank cheque for pork-barrel spending."
It is also a recipe for intensified conflict between the occupiers and the occupied.
The question is, for how long will US troops be prepared to risk death for Bush's Texas oil mates?