Oiling the Colonial Gears

Last week the U.S. postponed self-rule for Iraq in favor of an "interim authority." Instead of running the country, select Iraqis will help the Americans rewrite the constitution, reorganize the educational system and prepare for elections. U.S. officials banned Baath Party leadership from top government jobs in the country.

Philip J. Carroll, who oversees the Iraqi oil operation for the Pentagon, more than hinted that Iraq might opt out of OPEC. "Historically, Iraq has had, let's say, an irregular participation in OPEC quota systems," he told The Washington Post last weekend. "They have from time to time, because of compelling national interest, elected to opt out of the quota system and pursue their own path. . . . They may elect to do that same thing. To me, it's a very important national question."

That's proconsul-speak for "Let's bust OPEC." Carroll also suggested that the new authority could cancel or renegotiate all oil industry repair, supply and service contracts negotiated under Saddam Hussein. That opens the door for Bechtel, Fluor, and Halliburton's Kellogg Brown and Root to grab contracts previously held by France, China, and Russia.

Carroll spoke of the "best interests of the Iraqi people." He himself is controversial because of his past job running Shell Oil and subsequently Fluor, a company that already announced it wants in on rebuilding the Iraqi oil industry. Carroll owns substantial stock in both Shell and Fluor.

Should Iraq break with OPEC and boost production, it could flood the market, driving down prices. Such a course could hurt OPEC members, though Saudi Arabia has so much oil money it could sit out a glut for quite a while. Lower prices might be welcome in the U.S. during the presidential campaign, but it would almost surely threaten the profits of U.S. domestic producers, many of them based in Texas and keen contributors to the Bush campaign.

Meanwhile, the toll of occupation mounts. Carol Bellamy, who heads the UN Children's Fund, said in Iraq over the weekend that there has been a sharp rise in acute diarrhea among children. One-quarter of Iraqi children were malnourished before the war, and the numbers are rising. This is because of broken-down sewage- and water-treatment facilities. Parents are afraid to send children to school because of continuing violence, and no one talks of the many kids living in the street. The existence of such street children was not admitted under Saddam.

And then there are particular horrors: Villagers near a nuclear-storage site that supposedly had been secured by American troops became ill after they took barrels previously used to store yellow-cake uranium and used them to store water, milk, and yogurt.

SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE 500

In the aftermath of the recent bombing in Saudi Arabia, it became clear that all the al-Qaida team needed was 30 seconds to take out the security guards at the Vinnell Corp. housing compound in Riyadh so they could drive the bomb-laden vehicles to their targets.

The U.S. quite understandably issued sharp criticism of the Saudi rulers' ineffective security precautions. We ought to know. The Saudi National Guard, which provided at least some of the protective services for the compounds, is trained by American private military operatives, employees of Vinnell, a subsidiary of defense giant Northrop Grumman.

Some of the blown-up buildings housed the company's workers. The point could not have been better made: Even as Bush celebrated his victory in the war on terror in Iraq, Al Qaeda scored a direct hit on American privatized paramilitary forces.

And it's not the first time terrorists have successfully attacked Northrop Grumman's troops. In 1995 terrorists hit the Saudi National Guard headquarters and the nearby offices where Vinnell employees worked. Vinnell, based in Alexandria, Virginia, has been working under a five-year, $831 million contract to train the Saudi National Guard, which serves as a palace guard for the Saudi royal rulers. The contract is paid for by the Saudi government and administered by the U.S. Army Materiel Command. Vinnell got its start as a Los Angeles construction company, and after World War II it sent guns to Chiang Kai-shek in his losing fight to regain control of mainland China. By the 1960s, the company was being used as a cover for CIA agents working in Africa and the Middle East, and it built airfields in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. "We are not pulling the triggers. We train people to pull the triggers," a Vinnell employee once told Peter Arnett. "Perhaps that makes us executive mercenaries."

LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT

Some 107 communities in 24 states representing 11.3 million people have now passed resolutions opposing the federal USA Patriot Act. Alaska is expected to join Hawaii in opposing the Patriot Act, as is the city of Baltimore. This could be the beginning of unexpected political opposition to the Bush re-election campaign, especially since the opposition now includes an important sector of the conservative movement itself. Such entities as the Eagle Forum and American Conservative Union are speaking out strongly against the act as a violation of civil liberties and have joined with the ACLU and other liberal groups in a coalition to fight the act.

The assault has forced the government to launch its own lobbying effort to buoy support for the legislation. In the Albany FBI office, Keith A. DeVincentis, the special agent in charge, recently went to bat against the Ithaca city council, which had passed a resolution against the Patriot Act. "Contrary to popular television and theatrical portrayals, the FBI initiates cases predicated on facts, not suspicions or guesswork," DeVincentis said, and he added that the Ithaca councilmembers should "be aware that the FBI has been the primary entity in the United States responsible for investigating and bringing to justice those who seek to violate the constitutional rights of the American people."

In Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl openly attacked the Tucson city council for passing a resolution opposing the Patriot Act. Kyl claimed that such "resolutions expressing doubts" about the Patriot Act represent "less than one-half of one percent of all incorporated municipalities in the United States." Kyl went on to insist that Tucson's action was unlike that of the U.S. Senate, which he said "thoroughly debated" the legislation that passed with "overwhelming bipartisan support." (At the time, Congress was criticized for failing to debate the act.)

Meanwhile, the government's prosecutions under the act look fishy. The Philadelphia Inquirer, working with Syracuse University, found that 60 Middle Eastern men charged with terrorism in the fall of 2002 actually were guilty only of cheating on an English test for admission to a U.S. university. And that's just for starters. So far, the government has filed terror charges against 56 people, but 41 of them had nothing to do with terrorism. They included Latinos accused of working without green cards at a Texas airport and people who allegedly trespassed on the navy's Vieques firing range in Puerto Rico. Activists there worked hard to get the navy to quit firing live ammunition on the island. Now they find themselves facing terrorist charges.

Of the total of 56, six men had alleged ties to terrorist groups, and a few others were supposedly connected to money laundering alleged to have connections with terrorist operations. A recent GAO audit concluded that three-quarters of all "international terrorism" cases were not about terrorism.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine.
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