U.S. considers using Iraq's oil to pay for occupation

Some advocate taking funds as `spoils of war'

January 10, 2003|By Knut Royce | Knut Royce,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Bush administration officials are seriously considering proposals that the United States tap Iraq's oil to help pay the cost of a military occupation, a move that likely would prove highly inflammatory in an Arab world suspicious of U.S. motives in Iraq.

Officially, the White House agrees that oil revenue would play an important role during an occupation period, but only for the benefit of Iraqis, according to a National Security Council spokesman.

Yet there are strong advocates inside the administration, including in the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as "spoils of war," according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the dialogue.

"There are people in the White House who take the position that it's all the spoils of war," said the source, who asked not to be named. "We [the United States] take all the oil money until there is a new democratic government" in Iraq.

The source said the Justice Department has urged caution. "The Justice Department has doubts," he said.

He said department lawyers are unsure "whether any of it [Iraqi oil funds] can be used or has to all be held in trust for the people of Iraq."

Another source who has worked closely with the office of Vice President Dick Cheney said that a number of officials there, too, are urging that Iraq's oil funds be used to defray the cost of occupation.

Jennifer Millerwise, a Cheney spokeswoman, declined to talk about "internal policy discussions."

Using Iraqi oil to fund an occupation would reinforce a prevalent belief in the Mideast that the conflict is all about control of oil, not rooting out weapons of mass destruction, according to Halim Barakat, a recently retired professor of Arab studies at Georgetown University.

"It would mean that the real ... objective of the war is not the democratization of Iraq, not getting rid of Saddam, not to liberate the Iraqi people, but a return to colonialism," he said. "That is how they [Mideast nations] would perceive it."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of an occupation would range from $12 billion to $48 billion a year, and officials believe an occupation could last 1 1/2 years or more.

An administration source said that most of the proposals for the conduct of the war and implementation of plans for a subsequent occupation are being drafted by the Pentagon.

Knut Royce writes for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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