The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that it plays no part in contract negotiations between Western oil companies and Iraq. But the New York Times reported last week that the State Department actually had an “integral role” in the awarding of no-bid contracts to develop Iraq’s oil fields.
Today, the administration received another blow to its credibility, as the House Oversight Committee released documents further connecting it to Iraqi oil deals, this time through Dallas-based Hunt Oil. Hunt Oil is owned by Ray L. Hunt, a former Halliburton board member who has donated $35 million to the Bush presidential library.
In September 2007, Hunt Oil signed a contract with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to develop oil fields in the Kurdish region of Iraq. At the time, the State Department criticized the deal, calling it “counterproductive,” and saying that “these contracts have needlessly elevated tensions between the KRG and the national government of Iraq.”
President Bush denied knowledge of the contract, saying that he “knew nothing about the deal” and was “concerned”:
I knew nothing about the deal. I need to know exactly how it happened. To the extent that it does undermine the ability for the government to come up with an oil revenue sharing plan that unifies the country, obviously if it undermines it I’m concerned.
However, the documents released by the Oversight Committee today include ample evidence that officials in the State Department and Commerce Department “knew about Hunt Oil’s interest in the Kurdish region months before the contract was executed”:
- Hunt sent two letters to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board “making clear his intentions to pursue oil exploration in Kurdistan.”
- Hunt Oil’s general manager informed the Regional Reconstruction Team (RRT) that “Hunt is expecting to sign an exploration contract,” a warning that was sent to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and to the State Department.
- Hunt Oil officials met with the RRT to inquire about U.S. policy towards oil contracts with the KRG, and were told that the “U.S. has no policy, for nor against.”
- In an internal company e-mail, Hunt’s general manager said that there was “no communication” from the State Department that Hunt should not make the deal, despite “ample opportunity to do so.”
This isn’t the first time the Bush administration has helped out the billionaire Hunt. In 2006, a proposed border fence in Texas “abruptly ended” right before Hunt’s property.
In light of these findings regarding Hunt Oil and the administration, the Oversight committee has penned a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asking for more information about the “U.S. role in the efforts of other oil companies to obtain Iraqi contracts.” “This is a serious matter because of the widespread suspicion in Iraq and other nations that the United States went to war to gain access to Iraqi oil,” the committee wrote.