Iraqi Oil Strategy Divides State, White House. (Political Notebook)

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The question of what should happen to Iraq's oil fields if Saddam Hussein is removed from power has become yet another source of fierce division between hawks and Republican "moderates" within the Bush administration. A sharp and very inside-the-Beltway struggle is taking place the scenes over planning for a post-Saddam Iraq with future of Iraqi oil taking center-stage.

A proposal drafted by Elliott Abrams, a special assistant to President George W. Bush on the National Security Council(NSC), arguing for the United States to assert de facto control of Iraqi oil fields has stunned State Department officials. It doesn't help that Abrams (right) was convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, only to receive a presidential pardon from the current president's father.

Bush-administration "moderates" have raised legal and practical objections to the Abrams proposal, arguing that only a puppet Iraqi government would acquiesce to U.S. supervision of the oil fields and that one so slavish to U.S. interests risks becoming untenable with Iraqis. Furthermore, they argue, the move would trigger a wide political backlash in the Middle East and confirm overseas suspicions that U.S. actions against Saddam are driven by oil politics.

Abrams, who in early December was promoted within the NSC to senior director for Near East and North African affairs, heads one of a dozen administration working groups tasked with drafting post-invasion plans. But critics in the State Department say his group has been going beyond its authority--officially, it is meant to focus on planning for a humanitarian crisis in the immediate wake of an invasion--and is involving itself in post-Saddam politics and broader issues of economic reconstruction.

Pentagon sources say Abrams has the backing of Paul Wolfowitz, the conservative deputy defense secretary, and the support of the office of conservative Vice President Dick Cheney. "This is a case of stealthy micromanagement by the Wolfowitz hawks--they use what bureaucratic vehicles are available to make their imprint on policy," says an ally of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The group has not been forthcoming in providing information, refusing to brief not only top State Department officials but also aides of Gen. Tommy Franks, the commanding officer of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), about what it is doing, claim rival Defense Department sources.

Powell allies fear that the Abrams group is part of a concerted and stealthy effort by hawks to steal a march on reconstruction planning, in the process keeping it away from the State Department and the United Nations. CIA sources say there also is frustration at Langley about post-invasion planning and that agency heads there believe they are being shutout as well. Conservatives who hear such complaints respond that they hope this is just what is happening.

The Abrams group includes Joe Collins, a deputy assistant secretary at the Pentagon and a one-time Wolfowitz speechwriter, and Robin Cleveland, a former aide to Republican Sen. …