Flags of our fatwas

No NYT:

Panel Questions State Dept. Role in Iraq Oil Deal

Bush administration officials knew that a Texas oil company with close ties to President Bush was planning to sign an oil deal with the regional Kurdistan government that ran counter to American policy and undercut Iraq’s central government, a Congressional committee has concluded.

The conclusions were based on e-mail messages and other documents that the committee released Wednesday.

United States policy is to warn companies that they incur risks in signing contracts until Iraq passes an oil law and to strengthen Iraq’s central government. The Kurdistan deal, by ceding responsibility for writing contracts directly to a regional government, infuriated Iraqi officials. But State Department officials did nothing to discourage the deal and in some cases appeared to welcome it, the documents show.

The company, Hunt Oil of Dallas, signed the deal with Kurdistan’s semiautonomous government last September. Its chief executive, Ray L. Hunt, a close political ally of President Bush, briefed an advisory board to Mr. Bush on his contacts with Kurdish officials before the deal was signed.

In an e-mail message released by the Congressional committee, a State Department official in Washington, briefed by a colleague about the impending deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government, wrote: “Many thanks for the heads up; getting an American company to sign a deal with the K.R.G. will make big news back here. Please keep us posted.”

The release of the documents comes as the administration is defending help that United States officials provided in drawing up a separate set of no-bid contracts, still pending, between Iraq’s Oil Ministry in Baghdad and five major Western oil companies to provide services at other Iraqi oil fields.

In the no-bid contracts, the administration said it had provided what it called purely technical help writing the contracts. The United States played no role in choosing the companies, the administration has said.

Disclosure of those contracts has provided substantial fuel to critics of the Iraq war, both in the United States and abroad, who contend that the enormous Iraqi oil reserves were a motivation for the American-led invasion – an assertion the administration has repeatedly denied.

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