March 16, 2004 -- MANY Americans are convinced even today that thewar in Iraq was all about oil. And they're right - but oil was thekey for French President Jacques Chirac, not for the UnitedStates.
In documents I obtained during an investigation of the Frenchrelationship to Saddam Hussein, the French interest in maintainingSaddam Hussein in power was spelled out in excruciating detail. Theprice tag: close to $100 billion. That was what French oil companiesstood to profit in the first seven years of their exclusive oilarrangements - had Saddam remained in power.
The French claimed their opposition to the U.S.-led war to oustSaddam Hussein was all about policy. The editor of the Paris daily LeMonde, Jean-Marie Colombani, just resuscitated those arguments in aneditorial that singled out George W. Bush as "a threat to the veryfoundation of the historical alliance between the U.S. and Europe,"and called fervently for the election of John F. Kerry. (I guess thatF now stands for France.)
But Colombani, whose paper's coverage of the war in Iraq wasnoteworthy for its wanton disregard for the truth, had not a word tosay about his country's war for oil. Indeed, the secret deals theFrench state-owned oil companies negotiated in the 1990s with SaddamHussein went widely unreported in France.
Almost as soon as the guns went silent after the first Gulf war in1991, French oil giants Total SA and Elf Aquitaine - who have nowmerged and expanded to become TotalFinaElf - sought a competitiveadvantage over their rivals in Iraq by negotiating exclusiveproduction-sharing contracts with Saddam's regime that were intendedto give them a stranglehold on Iraq's future oil production fordecades to come.
The first of two massive deals was announced in June 1994 bythen-Iraqi Oil Minister Safa al-Habobi - a well-known figure whosename had surfaced in numerous procurement schemes in the 1980s inassociation with the Ministry of Industry and MilitaryIndustrialization, which supervised Saddam's chemical, biological,missile and nuclear-weapons programs.
Speaking in Vienna, al-Habobi confirmed that his government wasawarding Total SA rights to the future production of the Nahr Umaroil field in southern Iraq, and that Elf was well-placed to beawarded similar terms in the Majnoon oil fields on the border withIran.
Those two deals, which I detail in "The French Betrayal ofAmerica," would have been worth an estimated $100 billion over aseven-year period - but were conditioned on the lifting of U.N.sanctions on Iraq. Simply put, analyst Gerald Hillman told me, theFrench were saying: "We will help you get the sanctions lifted, andwhen we do that, you give us this."
The Total contract, a copy of which I obtained, was "veryone-sided," says Hillman. (Hillman, a political economist and amanaging partner at Trireme Investments in New York, did a detailedanalysis of the contract.) An ordinary production agreement typicallygrants the foreign partner a maximum of 50 percent of the grossproceeds of the oil produced at the field they develop. But this dealgave Total 75 percent of the total production. "This is highlyunusual," he said. Indeed, it was extortion.
But Saddam willingly agreed: He saw the Total deal, and a similarone with Elf, as the price he had to pay to secure French politicalsupport at the United Nations.
Much has been written in recent weeks about the corruption of theU.N. Oil-for-Food program. Documents uncovered in Iraq's oil ministryand published by the Baghdad daily al Mada list several cronies ofFrench President Chirac among those who had received special oilallocations as a political payoff from Saddam.
But the amounts attributed to these individuals - in the tens ofmillions of barrels, on which they stood to earn between 25 to 40cents per barrel - pale in comparison to the $100 billion payofforchestrated by Chirac and Saddam.
No, oil wasn't the only reason France opposed the United States atthe United Nations in the lead-up to the war. The megalomania ofForeign Minister Dominique de Villepin (who lied to Secretary ofState Colin Powell repeatedly and later boasted about it to visitingU.S. congressional delegations) certainly entered into the mix. Sodid French pride, wounded at the realization that France is no longerthe great power it once was.
But the French did not merely disagree with the United States overIraq, as did a certain number of our allies: They actively sought torally world leaders and public opinion to treat the United States -not Saddam Hussein - as the enemy.
The enormous difference between those two positions - legitimatedissent and active subversion of America's right to self-defense - iswhy America is right to treat France as a former ally. Under Chirac'sstewardship, France has shown the world that it cared more aboutpropping up a murderous dictator than it valued its 225-year alliancewith America.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine. Hisbook "The French Betrayal of America" is just out.
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