France, Germany Protect Iraq Ties; Commercial Contracts, Pacts on Oil Fields in Jeopardy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

France, Germany Protect Iraq Ties; Commercial Contracts, Pacts on Oil Fields in Jeopardy


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

France and Germany, the two countries at the forefront of opposition to the U.S. hard line against Iraq, have a long history of commercial and other contacts with the regime of Saddam Hussein.

TotalFinaElf, France's huge oil firm, holds the contract to develop Iraq's southern Majnoon and Nahr Umar oil fields, which could contain as much as 25 percent of the country's reserves.

German firms were the market leaders in supplying sensitive dual-use technology to Iraq in the years before the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and they have been trying to boost civilian commercial contracts in more recent times.

Khidir Hamza, an Iraqi defector who once headed Saddam's nuclear weapons program, recently called Germany "the hub of Iraq's military purchases in the 1980s."

Iraq analyst Kelly Nugent Motz, in a recent analysis of Iraqi dual-use purchases that have helped build the country's arsenal of biological, chemical and possibly nuclear weapons, noted that many of the materials U.N. weapons inspectors are now seeking are "things the West supplied."

"The real targets in Iraq - whether of inspectors now or of soldiers later - are the West's own exports," said Ms. Motz, editor of IraqWatch.org, published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a Washington-based research group.

The issue of Western economic interests in Iraq has sparked an angry trans-Atlantic debate over motives of those supporting or opposing a potential U.S.-led military strike against Iraq.

European critics - and many of the hundreds of thousands of protesters in the United States and Europe in recent days - contend Bush administration policy is driven not by Iraq's weapons but by its oil.

U.S. energy firms largely frozen out by Saddam's regime could get priority deals to develop huge new Iraqi fields under a new regime in debt to Washington, they contend.

But France and Germany are vulnerable on the same score, according to those who support the Bush administration tack.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, at a recent Senate hearing on the future of a post-Saddam Iraq, recalled being told repeatedly during a recent European trip by skeptics that the debate about an Iraq war was "really about oil."

"And I agreed with them," Mr. Biden recalled. "It is about oil - French oil and Russian oil."

Richard Perle, a leading supporter of war with Iraq and head of an influential civilian Pentagon advisory board, last week said that TotalFinaElf was given a highly favorable deal on exploration rights in Iraq as part of an effort by Baghdad to buy allies against the United States.

"The French interest in the propagation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious," Mr. Perle said in a speech in New York.

Iraq has not been shy about dangling threats and rewards to its trading partners in order to bolster its international support and end the diplomatic and economic sanctions it has endured since the end of the Gulf war.

In December 1999, the Iraqi newspaper Babel, edited by Saddam's elder son, Uday, warned France that its support for a U.S.-backed U.N. resolution toughening the existing trade sanctions could directly hurt French interests in Iraq.

French oil firms might be forced to close their Baghdad offices and "lose the immense concessions which they have won but not yet exploited," wrote Abdel Razzak Hashemi, a former Iraqi ambassador to Paris. "The numerous advantages which French companies enjoy on the Iraqi market could also be halted."

Baghdad followed through on the threat in July 2001, announcing that French firms would no longer be given preferential treatment in oil-development deals, citing Paris' support for the "smart sanctions" program then being pushed by the Bush administration.

At the annual Baghdad international trade fair in November, the Iraqi Information Ministry reported that Saddam himself had ordered domestic buyers to "give priority" to German companies as a reward for "the firm positive stand of Germany in rejecting the launching of a military attack against Iraq by the U. …

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