Corporate Colonialism

Companies . . . March!

As of last week, two men with long experience at Shell and BP were being discussed as possible candidates.

Phillip Carroll, cited by oil industry sources as a possible director of Iraqi oil operations, most recently was CEO of Fluor Co., and before that was president of U.S. Shell, the American subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, which is owned by both British and Dutch interests. Carroll has acknowledged he has been approached for the job.

Both Fluor and Shell have aroused controversy in the past. Fluor is all over the energy world, with pipeline deals in Alaska, oil in Kazakhstan, gas and petrochemicals in Saudi Arabia, and so on. It is a Fortune 500 company with a backlog of contracts, as of last year, of $10.6 billion. Along with two other companies, Fluor has contracts for as much as $100 million from the Army Corps of Engineers for work in Afghanistan.

A firm hand.
photo: Susan Sterner
A firm hand.

The company also currently faces a lawsuit by South African black workers claiming, according to activists, that Fluor "exploited and brutalized them during the apartheid era." Among other things, the claimants say Fluor security men dressed up as Ku Klux Klan members in white robes and attacked unarmed workers. Fluor denies all the allegations.

Before working at Fluor, Carroll ran operations for U.S. Shell during a period when the parent Royal Dutch Shell was under attack for its handling of protests against its operations on the Ogoni tribal lands in Nigeria. Activists were attacked by a private police force allegedly run by the company. Nigeria arrested opposition figures, including the leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and hanged them.

The second man mentioned by industry sources for a major job in Iraq is Rodney Chase, a long time BP executive involved in major deals and deputy chairman of beverage behemoth Diageo (Smirnoff's, Bailey's, Captain Morgan, Jose Cuervo, et al.) and supermarket superfirm Tesco (the United Kingdom's largest retailer).

Discussion of outsiders running the Iraq oil business already has ignited controversy. Issam al-Chalabi, the Iraqi oil minister from 1987 to 1990 (not the U.S. puppet Ahmed Chalabi), told the news service last week, "I believe that any kind of direct rule by the Americans, whether military or civilian, will be rejected and resisted by Iraqis and will not be to the advantage of the Americans."

Commenting on one report that speculated Bush would set up 23 ministries, al-Chalabi said such a scheme was "absolutely absurd." He said Iraqi oil employees couldn't stomach it, adding, "I would let the Iraqis run their institutions, ministries, companies, departments." On the other hand, a UN-run operation, in his view, held out some possibilities.

But the U.S. seems intent on avoiding the UN if it can. A recent proposal by the Heritage Foundation suggests creating a federal government with representation by the three main groups: Kurds, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims. Under this scheme the U.S. government, through Garner, would guide Iraq toward privatization of the oil industry.

But having captured the Iraqi oil fields, the U.S. may find that it's not so simple to market the oil because of Iraq's outstanding debts abroad. Creditors may well attempt to tie up any oil shipments in an effort to get their money back. Among them are the major oil companies, whose holdings were nationalized in the 1950s. These firms may lay claim to their former holdings, which would cause an endless legal fight. Until ownership of Iraqi oil is firmly settled, the UN's Oil for Food program is the one existing and agreed-upon arrangement for oil sales. Even Bush seems to acknowledge that. In the end, it may not be so easy to get rid of the UN.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine

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