Today’s Must Read

June 30, 2008 10:07 a.m.

A couple weeks ago, we learned that Iraq’s oh-so-very-sovereign Ministry of Oil was about to award a round of no-bid contracts to several western oil companies that would bring the large multinationals back into Iraq for the first time in more than 35 years.

The Bush Administration insisted that they were not going to interfere in this deal, which was between Iraq’s democratic leaders and private-sector companies.

But today’s New York Times report confirms what many people have suspected for years — that U.S. officials are working behind the scenes to influence the future of Iraq’s massive oil reserves.

In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.

The American government lawyers provided specific advice, the State Department official said, like: “These are the clauses you may want. You will need a clause on arbitration. You will need this clause to make this work.”

Near the end of the story, the Times reports:

Advisers from the State, Commerce, Energy and Interior Departments are assigned to work with the Iraqi Oil Ministry, according to the senior diplomat. In addition, the United States Agency for International Development has a contract for Management Systems International, a Washington consulting firm, to advise the oil and other ministries. The agency’s program is called Tatweer, the Arabic word for development.

A Washington consulting firm? Actually, Management Systems International is a subsidiary of a massive Australian company, Coffey International Ltd. focusing on mining, oil and gas infrastructure projects.

And guess who some of their clients are? Global oil companies including Cheveron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP.

So the company that touts big oil as clients is helping the Iraqi government negotiate with those companies — and getting paid by the U.S. government to do so.

But USAID and the consulting firm they hired don’t call that a conflict of interest, the call it “mentoring.”

“The legal department of the Ministry of Oil passed us a draft of the contract,” Samir Abid, a Canadian of Iraqi origin who is an employee of the Tatweer program, said in a telephone interview. “They passed it to us and asked for our comments because we were mentoring them.”

U.S. officials suggested that the Iraqi’s needed their help since they haven’t dealt with western oil companies since the 1970s. That’s when, you might recall, Saddam Hussein kicked out all the international oil firms and nationalized the Iraq National Oil Company.

The Times wrote Sunday, in a story about Iraq’s oil in the Week in Review section, many oil experts say that Iraq is among the easiest places in the world to pull oil out of the ground.

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