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Why Iraq and Afghanistan? It’s About the Oil


Now that the rationale provided by Bush & Co. for attacking Iraq is unraveling, it’s time to ask what the true motivation was for the rush to war. Many dismissed the signs of antiwar protestors, which read “No blood for oil.” But if we connect the oily fingerprints, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney’s, it appears those protestors were right.

Cheney’s energy task force, in a May 2001 report, called on the White House to make “energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy” and encourage Persian Gulf countries to welcome foreign investment in their energy sectors. In August 2002, Cheney warned a meeting of veterans that Saddam Hussein could seek to dominate the Middle East’s vast energy supplies, and said “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

Before the invasion of Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sought to decouple oil access from regime change in Iraq, which, he said, had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.” Rumsfeld, Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice all invoked Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and his ties to Al Qaeda, neither of which has materialized to date, as imminent threats to the security of the United States. Three days before the attack on Iraq, Cheney said, “we believe he [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” That claim, and Bush’s Niger uranium statement in his State of the Union address, were bogus.

When U.S.-U.K. forces took control of Iraq, their first order of business was to secure the oil fields, instead of the hospitals and antiquities museums. Meanwhile, Kellogg Brown & Root was awarded a controversial $7 billion no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq’s oil fields. KBR is a subsidiary of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil services company, formerly headed by Cheney before he was tapped for vice president. In a 1998 speech to the “Collateral Damage Conference” of the Cato Institute, Cheney said, “the good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States. Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go. But, we go where the business is.”

The business is in Iraq. Since April 2001, the public interest group Judicial Watch has sought public access to the proceedings of Cheney’s energy task force meetings, under the Freedom of Information Act. Yet Cheney has fought tenaciously to keep them secret. On July 17, however, Judicial Watch secured some of the documents from the task force, which contain the smoking gun: “a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects” and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents are dated March 2001, two years before Bush invaded Iraq.

The Bush administration’s October 2001 bombing of Afghanistan, although justified as a response to the September 11 attacks, was also part of U.S. oil strategy. Afghanistan never attacked the U.S. Yet, the U.S. and U.K. ousted the Taliban and secured Afghanistan for the construction of an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan, south through Afghanistan, to the Arabian Sea. Bush had been uncritical of the Taliban’s human rights record when Unocal oil company was negotiating for the pipeline rights before September 11. After assuming control of Afghanistan, Bush conveniently installed Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal official, as interim president of Afghanistan. “Operation Enduring Freedom” will allow oil corporations freedom to exploit Afghanistan for profit, while the Afghans continue to live in squalor.

Likewise, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has enabled U.S. corporations to exploit Iraq’s oil, while thousands of Iraqis continue to die, lose their jobs, and live without electricity. American soldiers are still dying while U.S. taxpayers foot the $3.9 billion monthly bill. Oil has proven to be the most terrible weapon of mass destruction.

MARJORIE COHN, a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, is executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. She can be reached at:


Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She writes, speaks and does media about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

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