22 September 2007

More Blackwater - Welcome to BushWorld

Blackwater, Oil and the Colonial Enterprise
By John Nichols

09/21/07 "The Nation" - - Blackwater USA's mercenary mission in Iraq is very much in the news this week, and rightly so. The private military contractor's war-for-profit program, which has been so brilliantly exposed by Jeremy Scahill, may finally get a measure of the official scrutiny it merits as the corporation scrambles to undo the revocation by the Iraqi government of its license to operate in that country. There will be official inquiries in Baghdad, and in Washington. The U.S. Congress might actually provide some of the oversight that is its responsibility. Perhaps, and this is a big "perhaps," Blackwater's "troops" could come home before the U.S. soldiers who have been forced to fight, and die, in defense of these international rent-a-cops.

But it is not the specific story of Blackwater that matters so much as the broader story of imperial excess that it illustrates.

If Blackwater, with an assist from the U.S. government, beats back the attempt by the Iraqis to regulate the firm's activities -- as now appears likely, considering Friday's reports that the firm has resumed guarding U.S. State Department convoys in Baghdad -- we will have all the confirmation that is needed of the great truth of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: This is a colonial endeavor no different than that of the British Empire against America's founding generation revolted.

But even if Blackwater loses its fight to stay, even if the corporation is forced to shut down its multi-billion dollar, U.S. Treasury-funded operation in Iraq, the brief "accountability moment" may not be sufficient to open up the necessary debate about Iraq's colonial status. The danger, for Iraq and the United States, that honest assessment of the crisis will lose out to face-saving gestures designed to foster the fantasy of Iraqi independence.

It is not enough that Blackwater is shamed and perhaps sanctioned. A Blackwater exit from Iraq will mean little if its mercenary contracts are merely taken over by one or more of the 140 other U.S.-sanctioned private security firms operating in that country -- such as Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton.

Whatever the precise play out of this Blackwater moment may be, the likelihood is that the colonial enterprise will continue. That's because, in the absence of intense pressure from grassroots activists and the media, Congress is unlikely to go beyond a scratch at the surface of what is actually going on in Iraq.

The deeper discussion requires that a discussion about the substance that no less a figure than former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan describes as the reason for the invasion and occupation of this particular Middle Eastern land: oil

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. aptly observed that "colonialism was made for domination and for exploitation," and there is no substance that the Bush-Cheney administration is more interested in dominating and exploiting than oil.

Thus, while it is right to pay close attention to the emerging discussion about Blackwater's wicked work in Iraq, Americans would do well to pay an equal measure of attention to the still largely submerged discussion about an Iraqi oil deal that will pay huge benefits to the Hunt Oil Company, a Texas firm closely linked to the administration. How closely? When he was running Halliburton, Cheney invited Hunt Oil Company CEO Ray Hunt to serve on the firm's board of directors. Hunt, a "Bush Pioneer" fund raiser during in 2000 who went on to serve as donated the tidy sum of $35 million to the Bush presidential library building fund.

The new "production sharing agreement" between Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government puts one of the administration's favorite firms in a position to reap immeasurable profits while undermining essential efforts to assure that Iraq's oil revenues will be shared by all Iraqis. Hunt's deal upsets hopes that Iraq's mineral wealth might ultimately be a source of stability, replacing the promise of economic equity with the prospect of a black-gold rush that will only widen inequalities and heighten ethnic and regional resentments.

The Hunt deal is so sleazy -- and so at odds with the stated goals of the Iraqi government and the U.S. regarding the sharing of oil revenues -- that even Bush has acknowledged that U.S. embassy officials in Baghdad are deeply concerned about it. What Bush and Cheney have been slow to mention is the fact that Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, says the deal is illegal.

As with the Blackwater imbroglio, however, there is no assurance that the stance of the Iraqi government is definitional with regard to what happens in Iraq.

That is why it is disturbing that, for the most part, members of Congress -- even members who say they do not want the United States to have a long-term presence in Iraq -- have been slow to start talking about Hunt's oil rigging.

One House member who has raised the alarm is Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who in his capacity as a key member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has asked the committee's chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, to launch an investigation into the Hunt Oil deal.

"As I have said for five years, this war is about oil," Kucinich, who is mounting an anti-war bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, declared on the floor of the House this week. "The Bush Administration desires private control of Iraqi oil, but we have no right to force Iraq to give up control of their oil. We have no right to set preconditions to Iraq which lead Iraq to giving up control of their oil. The Constitution of Iraq designates that the oil of Iraq is the property for all Iraqi people."

With that in mind, Kucinich explains, "I am calling for a Congressional investigation to determine the role the Administration may have played in the Hunt-Kurdistan deal, the effect the deal will have on the oil revenue sharing plan and the attempt by the Administration to privatize Iraqi oil."

Waxman has been ahead of the curve on Blackwater, seeking testimony from the firm's chairman at hearings scheduled for early October.

But Waxman needs to expand his focus, and the way to do that is by heeding Kucinich's call for an investigation into the Hunt deal.

That inquiry should begin with two fundamental questions:

Who runs Iraq -- the Iraqis or their colonial overlords in Washington?

And, if the claim is that the Iraqis are in charge, then why is Ray Hunt about to start steering revenues from that country's immense oil wealth into the same Texas bank accounts that have so generously funded the campaigns of George Bush and Dick Cheney?

Copyright © 2007 The Nation


And now there's THIS:

Feds Target Blackwater in Weapons Probe
By MATTHEW LEE, AP, Posted: 2007-09-22 14:04:08

WASHINGTON (Sept. 22) - Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, N.C., is handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and State Department auditors, who have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges, the officials told The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock, N.C.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment Friday. The U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, George Holding, declined to comment, as did Pentagon and State Department spokesmen.

Officials with knowledge of the case said it is active, although at an early stage. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, which has heightened since 11 Iraqis were killed Sunday in a shooting involving Blackwater contractors protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Baghdad .

The officials could not say whether the investigation would result in indictments, how many Blackwater employees are involved or if the company itself, which has won hundreds of millions of dollars in government security contracts since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is under scrutiny.

In Saturday's editions, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that two former Blackwater employees - Kenneth Wayne Cashwell of Virginia Beach, Va., and William Ellsworth "Max" Grumiaux of Clemmons, N.C. - are cooperating with federal investigators.

Cashwell and Grumiaux pleaded guilty in early 2007 to possession of stolen firearms that had been shipped in interstate or foreign commerce, and aided and abetted another in doing so, according to court papers viewed by The Associated Press. In their plea agreements, which call for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the men agreed to testify in any future proceedings.

Calls to defense attorneys were not immediately returned Friday evening, and calls to the telephone listings for both men also were not returned.

The News & Observer, citing unidentified sources, reported that the probe was looking at whether Blackwater had shipped unlicensed automatic weapons and military goods to Iraq without a license.

The paper's report that the company itself was under investigation could not be confirmed by the AP.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a review of security practices for U.S. diplomats in Iraq following a deadly incident involving Blackwater USA guards protecting an embassy convoy.

Rice's announcement came as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad resumed limited diplomatic convoys under the protection of Blackwater outside the heavily fortified Green Zone after a suspension because of the weekend incident in that city.

In the United States, officials in Washington said the smuggling investigation grew from internal Pentagon and State Department inquiries into U.S. weapons that had gone missing in Iraq. It gained steam after Turkish authorities protested to the U.S. in July that they had seized American arms from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, rebels.

The Turks provided serial numbers of the weapons to U.S. investigators, said a Turkish official.

The Pentagon said in late July it was looking into the Turkish complaints and a U.S. official said FBI agents had traveled to Turkey in recent months to look into cases of missing U.S. weapons in Iraq.

Investigators are determining whether the alleged Blackwater weapons match those taken from the PKK.

It was not clear if Blackwater employees suspected of selling to the black market knew the weapons they allegedly sold to middlemen might wind up with the PKK. If they did, possible charges against them could be more serious than theft or illegal weapons sales, officials said.

The PKK, which is fighting for an independent Kurdistan, is banned in Turkey, which has a restive Kurdish population and is considered a "foreign terrorist organization" by the State Department. That designation bars U.S. citizens or those in U.S. jurisdictions from supporting the group in any way.

The North Carolina investigation was first brought to light by State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, who mentioned it, perhaps inadvertently, this week while denying he had improperly blocked fraud and corruption probes in Iraq and Afghanistan .

Krongard was accused in a letter by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of politically motivated malfeasance, including refusing to cooperate with an investigation into alleged weapons smuggling by a large, unidentified State Department contractor.

In response, Krongard said in a written statement that he "made one of my best investigators available to help Assistant U.S. Attorneys in North Carolina in their investigation into alleged smuggling of weapons into Iraq by a contractor."

His statement went further than Waxman's letter because it identified the state in which the investigation was taking place. Blackwater is the biggest of the State Department's three private security contractors.

The other two, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, are based in Washington's northern Virginias suburbs, outside the jurisdiction of the North Carolina's attorneys.

Associated Press writers Mike Baker in Raleigh and Desmond Butler and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.


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