- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

"No blood for oil" so goes the oft-repeated chant of demonstrators against the looming war against Iraq. Both in the United States and abroad, American oil companies and their supposed puppets in the White House stand accused of running the show. Oh, please. As far back as the Vietnam War, the U.S. government has been blamed for being in it for the oil.

If the United States was so concerned about Iraq's admittedly significant oil wealth, why didn't we occupy the country after 1991? Why are we risking now going to war, very possibly provoking Saddam into setting fire to his oil fields and shutting down his exports to us? Why would any of this really matter given that imports from Iraq account for only 5 percent of total U.S. oil imports (2002 figures), and costs much less than going to war does.

Instead of looking at U.S. economic interests, let's look for a moment at the business interests of U.N. Security Council members opposed to going to war. Their business interests are certainly as important as ours; they have for reasons that are otherwise unfathomable chosen to side with a nasty, brutal dictator, a threat to stability in the Middle East and the security of the United States.

Most of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, of course, do not have the power to veto a mission against Iraq. Cameroon, Guinea and Mexico may have a vote as rotating members, but only the five permanent members can bring everything to a halt the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France. On Iraq, as on many other recent issues, we find the United States and Britain arrayed against the latter three.

"France controls over 22.5 percent of Iraq's imports," according to the "CIA World Factbook." Some 60 French companies do $1.5 billion in trade with Iraq under the U.N. oil-for-food program. France's largest oil company, Total Fina Elf, has negotiated deals to develop and explore the Majnoon and Nahr Umar oil fields, which are estimated to hold 25 percent of Iraq's reserves. From 1981-2001, France sold Iraq 13 percent of its arms imports.

Russia, according to the same source, controls 5.8 percent of Iraq's total imports. From 1981-2001, however, Russia supplied 50 percent of Iraq's arms imports. Under the oil-for-food program, Russian trade with Iraq amounts to an estimated $500 million to $1 billion. A Soviet-era debt to Iraq of about $7 billion to $8 billion, generated by arms sales during the Iran-Iraq war, is still outstanding. And Russian oil and gas companies have contracts to service and develop sites throughout Iraq, with a $40 billion economic agreement between Iraq and Russia reportedly having been signed in 2002 to allow oil exploration in western Iraq.

China, meanwhile, also controls 5.8 percent of Iraq's annual imports. Under the food-for-oil program, China's Aero-Technology Import-Export Co. (CATIC) has contracted to sell "metereological satellite" and "surface observation" equipment to Iraq. CATIC has also received U.N. approval to sell optic cables to Iraq, which can be used for secure data and communications links for military installations. From 1981-2001, China was second only to Russia in sales of arms to Iraq.

Saddam Hussein, of course, knows the blackmail value of these long-standing business ties, and why wouldn't he? In the Weekly Standard this week, Melana Zyla Vickers reports on the revelations contained in "Notre Allie Saddam," published in France in 1992. In an interview with authors Claude Angeli and Stephanie Mesnier, Saddam had this to say about French politicians, " 'With respect to the politicians, one need only refer back to the declarations of all the political parties of France, right and left. All were happy to brag about their friendship with Iraq and refer to common interests. From Mr. Chirac to Mr. Chevenement …politicians and economic leaders were in open competition to spend time with us and flatter us.' "

Unfortunately for him, Saddam's French friends betrayed him in 1991, when France joined the U.S.-led coalition in the first Gulf War. "If the trickery continues," Saddam warned the following year, "we will be forced to unmask them, all of them, before the French public." Is President Chirac thinking along the same lines, one wonders.

Now the United States, too, traded with Iraq in the 1980s. However, U.S. sales to Iraq stopped cold after the Gulf War, and resumed only on a greatly limited scale in 1997, when the U.N. oil-for-food program kicked in. Last year, Iraqi imports from the United States totaled just $31 million, mostly in technology for oil production. On the export side, Iraq sold the United States some $3.5 billion in oil.

What is more, this trading relationship is one that the United States is prepared to jeopardize in order to remove Saddam from power and root out his weapons of mass destruction. Let's face it. It is not the United States that is out to protect its business investments, outstanding loans and arms sales.

As the U.N. Security Council grinds towards its resolution on Iraq Number 18, let us not lose sight of the fact that protestations of pacifism, idealism and feigned high-mindedness can mask something far more crass trade with a brutal dictator and a menace to the peace.

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