PRIVATIZING IRAQ….Via Juan Cole, it looks like Greg Palast has an interesting new bit of muckraking airing tonight on the BBC. What makes it more noteworthy than usual is that the sources are all named, instead of being the usual anonymous suspects buried deep in the bowels of who knows where.

According to Palast, in April 2003 administration hawks brushed aside oil industry concerns and cobbled together a plan to privatize the Iraqi oil industry:

The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel.

Mr Ebel, a former Energy and CIA oil analyst, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Newsnight he flew to the London meeting at the request of the State Department.

[Iraqi-born oil industry consultant Falah] Aljibury, once Ronald Reagan’s “back-channel” to Saddam, claims that plans to sell off Iraq’s oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces.

“Insurgents used this, saying, ‘Look, you’re losing your country, you’re losing your resources to a bunch of wealthy billionaires who want to take you over and make your life miserable,’” said Mr Aljibury from his home near San Francisco.

The plan didn’t work, but apparently that was only because it turned out the oil industry didn’t want to own Iraqi oil fields:

Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil USA who took control of Iraq’s oil production for the US Government a month after the invasion, stalled the sell-off scheme.

Mr Carroll told us he made it clear to Paul Bremer, the US occupation chief who arrived in Iraq in May 2003, that: “There was to be no privatisation of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved.”

Ariel Cohen, of the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation…said America should have gone ahead with what he called a “no-brainer” decision.

Mr Carroll hit back, telling Newsnight, “I would agree with that statement. To privatize would be a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain.”

As always, it’s hard to know what was really going on, and the State Department claims that their report merely set out various options and advocated none. Maybe. But it will be interesting to see if anyone else follows up on this story.

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