What did the oil companies know
 and when did they know it?

            Among unexamined facts about the administration’s determination to go to war is that, in the weeks leading up to
the invasion of Iraq, US oil companies doubled their imports of Iraqi oil.  According to government figures, US imports of
Iraqi oil, which increased steadily following the November 2002 elections, almost tripled from November 2002 (9.57 million
barrels) to February 2003 (25.78 million barrels).  Iraqi oil imports almost doubled in the weeks following December 2002.

            Indeed, even in March 2003, the month US troops invaded Iraq, US petroleum companies imported 22.9 million
barrels of Iraqi oil.  (For yearly and monthly US imports, see http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/press.html#prior).

I wrote about some of this earlier.  In response, a thoughtful reader pointed out the following to me:  “Since we were at war
with Iraq by the last half of March, that entire month's usual amount of imports, nearly doubled, had to have been shipped
from Iraq during the first half of March.”  In other words, our oil companies’ imports from Iraq effectively quadrupled during
the first half of March.  Good point.

She went on, “Consider the logistics involved.  For the February amount to have been doubled means that Iraq
[Iraqi suppliers & distributors] had to be notified of the greater demand ahead of time.  How much ahead of time?”

Good question, and one to which we lack the answer.  The administration now investigating Sen. Richard Shelby (R- Alabama)
has shown less enthusiasm about investigating transactions involving petroleum.

She continues, “At least in January, but much more likely in November or December of 2002.  Just lining up the extra tankers
that would be required for doubling their imports must have been a time-consuming job for the oil companies, particularly if they
had to hire some of those tankers and consider what jobs were already scheduled for them.  No doubt they had to pay a premium
in order to have them at an Iraqi port on the date they would be required (maybe that's why our gas prices shot up).”

The reader speculates that perhaps the administration “tipped off the oil companies” to increase their import stockpiles.
As she asks, “How did the oil companies know they had to move that much oil in half a month?”

This response brings to mind some related questions:  did the Vice President’s office have continuing contacts with the
“Energy Policy Task Force,” even after our energy policy was formulated?  Did any contacts involve Iraq?

There is another sad point:  in April 2003, US imports of Iraqi oil totaled at least 18.8 million barrels, and some estimates give 21
million barrels.  Yes, that’s right:  immediately after the invasion of Iraq, with US troops given the mission of controlling Iraq, somebody
was pumping millions of gallons of Iraqi crude out of the country.  Evidently somebody felt that to the victors belong the spoils.  It was
following this successful transition, on May 1, that Bush made his flight-suit appearance on an aircraft carrier, to proclaim major combat over.

That same period must have confirmed, for some Iraqis, the Westerners’ priorities:  with the country of Iraq itself sorely in need of every
imaginable supply, its most valuable resource was being shipped out of the country as expeditiously as possible (while the occupiers were
pleading their inability to restore even household electricity in Baghdad.)

With the pipelines hit by repeated sabotage and other resistance acts, US imports of Iraqi oil dropped to only three million barrels in May,
and collapsed to 24,000 barrels in June.  It was on July 3, following this drop, that Bush produced his macho challenge, “Bring ‘em on!”

Other observers may make of this what they will.  I think it’s a violation at a gut level.



Margie Burns, a freelance writer in DC, can be reached at margie.burns@verizon.net.



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