Documents released under America's Freedom of Information Act reveal
that an energy task force led by vice-president Dick Cheney was
examining Iraq's oil assets two years before the latest war began.
The papers were obtained after a long battle with the White House by
Judicial Watch, a conservative legal charity that opposes government
secrecy and which is suing for the dealings of the task force to be
The emergence of the documents could fuel claims that America's war
in Iraq had as much to do with oil as national security. It also
indicates that the Bush administration is beginning to lose the
battle to keep its internal workings secret.
The 16 pages, dated March 2001, show maps of Iraq oil fields,
pipelines, refineries and terminals. A document titled Foreign
Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts is also included, listing which
countries were keen to do business with Saddam's regime.
Judicial Watch requested the papers two years ago as part of its
investigation into links between the Bush administration and senior
energy executives including Enron's former chairman Ken Lay.
Mr. Cheney has fought the release of the documents at every stage. A
court ordered two weeks ago that at least some of the task force's
working papers should be made public.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said: "People will draw their own
conclusions about the documents, but that is what an open society is
about. Given the delay in their release, the Bush administration
clearly did not want them to come out."
A spokesman for Mr Cheney did not return calls yesterday. The US
Commerce Department said in a statement: "It is the responsibility of
the Commerce Department to serve as a commercial liaison for US
companies doing business around the world, including those that
develop and utilise energy resources. The Energy Task Force evaluated
regions of the world that are vital to global energy supply."
Judicial Watch isn't claiming that the documents are proof of any
particular intent but say they should be open to public scrutiny.
Mr Fitton said: "Opponents of the war will point to the documents as
evidence that the Bush administration was after Iraqi oil. Supporters
will say the energy task force would have been remiss if it did not
take Iraq's oil into account."
Nevertheless, the documents represent a surprising development. Until
now it had been assumed that the US government was stonewalling over
the energy task force papers because they would show the extent to
which major party benefactors, including Enron, effectively wrote
national energy policy.
Judicial Watch and other watchdogs are now curious what else may be
revealed. A court ordered the government to comply with the Freedom
of Information Act and give up these documents more than a year ago.
Judicial Watch said it could not explain why the papers were suddenly
released. A government spokesman declined to elaborate.
Maps of oil fields and pipelines in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates and a list of energy development projects in those two
countries are also included.
Mr Cheney argues that his consultations with the energy industry
should be private so that all parties can speak freely. A US court
recently described this invoking of executive privilege
"extraordinary" and "drastic".