The Truth about Oil and the Iraq War, 15 Years Later

By Gary Vogler, author or Iraq and the Politics of Oil

April 24 marks the 15th anniversary of my initial entry into Baghdad as the senior oil advisor to retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner, our US government civilian leader in Iraq. It was the beginning of my six plus years in Iraq working on the oil sector and denying the allegation that the Iraq war had an oil agenda. I can no longer refute such an allegation.

Was there an oil agenda for the Iraq war? If you had asked me that question four years ago, I would have said no, absolutely not. And, I said no on national television in 2014.

Ambassador L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer and I went on the Rachel Maddow Show to refute Maddow’s position that the Iraq war was largely about oil. Specifically, I said that I had not witnessed any serious oil agenda during my time at the Pentagon and in Iraq. I cannot honestly say that today. So what has changed my mind?

Phil Carroll (the retired Shell US CEO who became my boss in Baghdad in May 2003) and I agreed that if either of us saw anything close to an oil agenda in the summer of 2003, we would both resign and leave Iraq. Phil and I had spent time in the US army during our younger years before our careers in the oil industry and both of us detested the thought of US soldiers dying so that some oil company could profit from it. We were looking for an agenda involving US oil companies. The President’s critics were looking for the same thing and even inferring in the US press that it was taking place. We did not see it.

Up until 2013 my focus was on execution of plans and helping the Iraq oil sector as best I could. I had little desire to research about an oil agenda. I was in denial. I believed that my country sent me to Iraq for a noble reason and that people in my government just got the WMD issue wrong. I refused to entertain the idea that oil played any part in their decision.

I saw things that I did not understand during 2003, but wrote them off as distractions to our mission. Such as, why did Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Secretary of Defense, verbally reverse the decisions made by the President’s cabinet about an export pipeline through Syria just before the war started? We had discussed the Syria export pipeline during our prewar policy discussions. No oil infrastructure was supposed to be targeted during the invasion. The final written policy agreed by the President’s cabinet in late December 2002 stated that exports through that Syria pipeline should be used as leverage with the Syrian government to get their cooperation. The pipeline was not supposed to be destroyed.

However, Wolfowitz verbally reversed that guidance during a video teleconference with General Franks about a week before the invasion. The one large pump station that pumped oil through the Syrian export pipeline was destroyed early in the war. It was the only intentional oil infrastructure target. Secretary Rumsfeld announced to the NY Times the day after the pump station destruction that it was destroyed to punish Syria for helping Saddam smuggle oil outside of the United Nation’s oil for food program. Such explanation made no sense.

The attack on the pump station punished the future government of Iraq much more than Syria. Iraq lost an export channel and a $50 million pump station. Syria only lost the toll fees from any export barrels that Iraq would export through the pipeline in the future. Iraq incurred more than 95% of the punishment. This had all been discussed during our prewar planning and that is why the written policy approved by the cabinet stated as it did. So why did Wolfowitz reverse it? It made no sense to me until I started doing some serious research in the last few years while writing my book.

Using the Google search tool, I was able to find things in 2014 and 2015 in the foreign press that were real eye-openers. There were several articles in the Israeli and British press from 2003. I learned several new facts. I learned about an oil agenda and the players involved, but the most important was that I learned motives. I had many sleepless nights. I learned that a person cannot sleep when they are angry and the more I learned, the angrier I became. I had been a volunteer for all of my time in Iraq. I risked my life for seventy-five months in Iraq working for what I thought were noble reasons. The more I learned the more I realized that there was an oil agenda and I was just an unknowing participant.

The oil agenda I discovered and experienced was to supply Iraq oil to Israel. The players were the neoconservatives in the Bush Administration, their favorite Iraqi – Dr Ahmed Chalabi and the Israeli government. One of the motives was because Israel was paying a huge premium for its oil imports and this premium had just started in the late1990s. The agenda called for the reopening of the old Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline and its significant expansion. When this pipeline plan became unattainable in the 2nd half of 2003 then Chalabi took other actions to get inexpensive Iraqi oil to Israel.

A much more credible explanation for intentionally destroying the Syrian export pipeline than what Secretary Rumsfeld told the NY Times was found in the British press. The Guardian, a London newspaper, quoted a retired CIA agent just after the Syria pipeline attack. “It has long been a dream of a powerful section of the people now driving the Bush administration and the war in Iraq to safeguard Israel’s energy supply. Rebuilding the old Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline would transform economic power in the region, cutting out Syria and solving Israel’s energy crisis at a stroke.”

This was just one of several facts that I discovered during my research. Our nation’s second President, John Adams, was quoted as saying, ”Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Ten facts are discussed at the end of my recently published book and include the following five that I consider tipping point facts. These five facts made me realize that I had been in denial for many years. After learning these facts coupled with my other experiences, I recognized that there really was an oil agenda.

First, Israeli Infrastructure minister Joseph Pritskzy was interviewed in the Israeli press on March 31, 2003 – before the US Forces had even taken Baghdad. He was identifying how the Iraq war would benefit Israel economically. He was in contact with civilians at the Pentagon and they were planning to reopen the pipeline between Kirkuk in Iraq and Haifa Israel – a pipeline that was the only export pipeline in Iraq from 1934 until 1948 when Israel came into existence and the pipeline was closed by the government of Iraq. The pipeline through Syria was built to replace the Haifa pipeline after 1948. Pritskzy identified that Israel was paying a 25% premium for the oil imports they were receiving and the reopened pipeline to Haifa would eliminate the premium and be a huge economic benefit to Israel.

Second, the Israeli finance minister in 2003 was Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current Prime Minister. The Israeli press reported that Netanyahu went to London in 2003 to find investors willing to invest in the expansion of the Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline. A quote from his sales pitch about the oil pipeline to Haifa went this way – “and this is no pipe dream.”

Third, the number three person at the Pentagon in 2003 was Doug Feith. Feith’s law partner for fifteen years before Feith joined the Bush administration was Marc Zell. Zell was interviewed in 2004 in an article entitled “How Ahmed Chalabi conned the neocons.” Zell is quoted as saying that Chalabi promised to reopen the Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline and enable a huge amount of business between Iraq and Israel. Zell went on to further criticize Ahmed Chalabi saying “Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat.” The nerve of this guy Zell – criticizing his partner in crime who helped push us into a war that would eventually cost us 4,489 KIAs and over $2 trillion just so that he could make $millions in profits.

Fourth, Scooter Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff in Washington. Libby had a secure communications link to Ahmed Chalabi in Baghdad during the summer of 2003. Libby was also linked to the nefarious oil trader Marc Rich. That name might be familiar to you. Marc Rich was the person who President Clinton pardoned on his last day in office from crimes of income tax evasion of $100 million and trading with the enemy. Libby was Marc Rich’s lawyer for many years while Rich made $billions moving Iranian crude oil through a secret pipeline through Israel.

The pipeline carried oil from the Red Sea Israeli port of Eilat to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon. This secret pipeline was constructed in 1970 and Marc Rich transported Iranian oil through this pipeline for over 20 years, until the mid 1990s. He moved the oil through Israel to his customers in the Mediterranean and Israel received what oil it needed – at a discounted price. This arrangement stopped sometime after 1994 when Rich was forced out of the company he founded. The original company was called Marc Rich & Co, AG and located in Switzerland. The name was changed to Glencore in 1995 after Rich was bought out.

Both Marc Rich and Scooter Libby developed a very close relationship to the Israeli government and especially the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence group. The former British foreign secretary from 2001 to 2006 was Jack Straw. Straw said of Scooter Libby, “It is a toss up whether he is working for the Israelis or the Americans on any given day.”

Last, there was a young analyst assigned to our Energy Infrastructure Planning Group (EIPG) at the Pentagon back in October 2002 by the name of Mike Makovsky. Makovsky had no recognizable experience in the oil industry and no applicable experience in government – so his role on our team was somewhat contentious. The security people at the Pentagon refused to grant him a top secret clearance and he refused to deploy to Iraq with the rest of us, remaining at the Pentagon as the Pentagon’s so-called expert on the Iraq oil sector.

Years later, I learned that Doug Feith over-ruled the Pentagon security group to get Makovsky his top secret clearance. Something that I did not know was even legal. I also learned that AIPAC (the Israeli Lobby group) placed Makovsky in Doug Feith’s group at the Pentagon. I also learned that Makovsky left the US in 1989 to join the Israeli foreign service. My CIA contacts told me that Israel’s foreign service is 98% Mossad, the Israeli intelligence. So, it prompts a question – why was a Mossad contact with no oil experience placed in a key Iraq oil position at the Pentagon in 2002 through 2008? The only reasonable conclusion was to support the identified oil agenda for supplying Iraqi oil to Israel. Makovsky is currently the CEO of JINSA – an Israeli lobby think tank in DC.

The Alternative Plan

It became evident that the Haifa pipeline plan was unattainable late in the summer of 2003. The neoconservatives learned that the pipeline no longer existed inside Iraq and Ahmed Chalabi recognized that the Iraqis were violently resisting the idea of an oil pipeline to Israel.

In July 2003, the Iraqis started attacking oil pipelines. This led to severe shortages of gasoline and diesel for the population. Gas lines quickly became several kilometers long in 100-degree heat in Baghdad. The National Security Council (specifically Frank Miller) had a tirade on our video teleconference because pictures of the long gas lines were all over the US press and making the administration look bad.

It was recognized in Baghdad that the attacks had to be an inside job, but we would not be able to confirm it until years later. We eventually learned that the reason for the attacks was because the Iraqis were reading in the Baghdad Arabic press that the Americans were shipping their oil to Israel through a pipeline to Haifa. Israeli government leaders were announcing in their press that the Americans would soon reopen the Haifa pipeline and the Iraqi press just picked up the stories.

Oil ministry insiders began attacking their own pipelines after reading the Iraqi press. Chalabi convinced the neocons to give up on their primary plan of opening a pipeline to Haifa in 2003. He executed an alternative plan to get oil to Israel. He ordered the reversal of our CPA policy of not selling oil to brokers. The timing of the Chalabi order was very opportune because both Phil Carroll and I were out of the country. Phil and I endorsed the policy of not selling to brokers in order to minimize the risk of corruption.

Chalabi ordered the oil ministry to sell their oil to Glencore, the commodity brokerage company created by Marc Rich that had supplied as much as 90% of Israel’s crude oil over the last three decades. Iraq crude oil was sold to Glencore throughout the remainder of CPA and through the summer of 2004.

The facts cannot be denied. History should accurately reflect an oil agenda for the Iraq war of providing Iraqi oil to Israel.

Gary Vogler is president of Howitzer Consulting, LLC. From December 2006 to September 2011 he was a senior oil consultant for US Forces in Iraq, and before that he served as deputy senior oil advisor, CPA, for Baghdad, and as senior oil advisor, ORHA, for the Pentagon, Kuwait, and Baghdad. Vogler, a former US Army officer, has also worked in management positions at ExxonMobil and Mobil Oil Corporations for over two decades.

Gary Vogler (Iraq and the Politics of Oil) Q & A

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” John Adams.

During the Iraq War, Gary Vogler spent more time in Iraq than nearly any non-military American. Was the war really about oil? As a senior oil advisor for the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and briefly as minister of oil, Vogler thought he knew. But while doing research for a book about his experience in Iraq, Vogler discovered that what he knew was not the whole story—or even the true story. The Iraq war did have an oil agenda underlying it, one that Vogler had previously denied. Iraq and the Politics of Oil is Vogler’s attempt to set the record straight.

“Gary Vogler spent 72 months in Iraq after the invasion in 2003 working on oil infrastructure,” Gordon Rudd, author of Reconstructing Iraq; Regime Change, Jay Garner, and the ORHA Story. “I know no other person better qualified to write this story. And the management of oil in Iraq over this period is an important story.”

1. When did you first have the idea to write Iraq and the Politics of Oil?

I always felt like I needed to write something for my family. They never understood why I kept volunteering to return to Iraq. I knew that a manuscript or some form of written document was needed to help them understand. My wife read each chapter after completion and we discussed the contents. She now has a much better understanding.

Several people told me that if I did not write the Iraq oil story then it would never be told. Ambassador Bremer asked me to join him and Meghan O’Sullivan on the Rachel Maddow Show in 2013. Maddow was doing a documentary on the role of oil in the decision to go to war. Maddow’s producers interviewed me in the summer of 2013 and the show aired in early March 2014. After seeing their documentary, I realized that I needed to write a factual account of the US involvement in the Iraq oil sector.

2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?

I had never written a book. I have written many business reports and I wrote the Iraq oil Lessons Learned report for the US army in 2006, currently available on Kindle. I did not know the first thing about writing a book. A friend of mine introduced me to Don Phillips, a professional writer who has written many books. Don gave me some great advice. He told me to go home and make a list of all the stories that should be told about the oil sector, no matter how short or long. Then place those stories in the specific chapter where they belong. So, I tell over thirty stories within the twenty chapters in the book. He also advised me to write in the mornings when a person is most creative and to research in the afternoons. I researched and wrote for over a year. My first manuscript was shared with several colleagues who provided excellent feedback for my revised manuscript. The revision was sent to Kansas in mid 2016 and we signed a scholarly publication contract in January 2017.

3. Iraq and the Politics of Oilserves as an about face from your previous stance that the war in Iraq was not about oil. At what moment did you change your mind?

I denied any serious oil agenda until 2014. I risked my life in Iraq for seventy-five months and I firmly believed that myself and all Americans sent to Iraq were originally sent for noble reasons, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). I went on the Rachel Maddow Show with Ambassador Bremer in 2013 and denied an oil agenda. My mind was changed when I started reading articles in the foreign press and on-line news services. It was difficult to change my previous position, especially after being on national television. I hit a tipping point in late 2014 and early 2015. I did not sleep at night. My health suffered. My anger kept me awake many many nights. I read quotes in the foreign press that were made by Israeli government officials, a retired CIA agent and Doug Feith’s Law partner. They were real eye openers. The things I experienced in 2002 and 2003 that did not make sense to me at the time suddenly made perfect sense once I recognized and accepted the oil agenda.

4. Has there been any negative response from your colleagues in the oil industry?

It is still early. The book has not been available very long. The responses have all been positive so far from oil industry colleagues. In fact, there is a favorable review on Amazon by a person from the oil industry.

5. How do you anticipate the future of oil exports from the Middle East to change in the next 15 years?

Forecasting anything about the oil industry over one year is difficult. Doing it for 15 years is impossible. However, it is safe to say that Iraq will be a bigger player in Middle East oil exports going forward. The largest oil auction in history took place in Baghdad during 2009. The potential production volumes identified from the contracts signed after those auctions highlight the important role that Iraq oil production will play for decades into the future.

6. What do you view as the biggest issue facing the oil industry in relation to US foreign relations?

There is an excellent book that was recently written by Meghan O’Sullivan entitled Windfall. It does a good job identifying the increased power the US has achieved in the last ten years because of technological advances in the US oil industry. I have not yet finished her book, but she articulates the issues better than what I have previously read. Meghan worked with me in Iraq during the CPA era and eventually became President Bush’s principal advisor for Iraq.

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

LTG H. R. McMaster, head of the National Security Council. He wrote a book in 2011 about Vietnam called Dereliction of Duty. McMaster stressed two elements in his discussion of America’s failure in Vietnam: the hubris of President Johnson and his advisors, and the weakness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. My book highlights the hubris of President Bush’s advisors to think that they could successfully install a puppet leader in Iraq, Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, to open an Iraqi oil pipeline to Israel. Today, I am witnessing the same group of political ideologues, the Neocons, beating the same war drums for Iran that they beat before Iraq. My fear is that we have learned little about the folly of those who pushed us into Iraq. We may someday find ourselves in a war with Iran, but God help us if we allow the same group of Neocons to push us into such a war for similar reasons.

8. What are you reading now?

Windfall: How the New Energy Abundance Upends Global Politics and Strengthens America’s Power   by Meghan O’Sullivan

 

Let’s Stop Making Veterans

9780700621361Every year on Veterans Day, I call my dad and brother, both Veterans. I’m proud they are, but I wish they weren’t. My hope is that one day we will stop making Veterans, a hope that seems increasingly naive as our president “intensifies” efforts against ISIL by putting “boots on the ground” in Syria. There will be more Veterans next year.

Ten years ago on Veterans Day, my brother was in Iraq on his first deployment—on the road to becoming a Veteran like our father, who had been in Vietnam 37 years earlier. My brother kept a journal during his deployment in East Hit. I want to share some excerpts as we mark the ten years since he became a Veteran.

[Dec 23, 2005] The [locals] have been very friendly thus far, I have even smoked the hookah with them, also got to try some food that I think was bean based, but very good. I do sincerely hope that we do not upset the locals too much and that the rest of days will go on peacefully as they have thus far.

[Dec 31, 2005] The Iraqi troops have quit on us. They no longer want to go on patrol or stand post. I’m not quite sure why that is, hopefully they are not bitter at us. I understand that they are under great pressure from their people and some go to great extents to hide their faces and identities while on patrol to protect their families, but obviously they could not last more than one week out patrolling with us Marines.

[Jan 21, 2006] I honestly do not see how they [Iraqi soldiers] will ever be able to maintain law and order in this country.

These diary entries are from ten years ago. Ten years ago, my brother recognized, with genuine and heartbreaking disconcertion, the impossibility of stabilizing Iraq. Ten years ago, we had far fewer Veterans then we do today.

So here we are on another Veterans Day. And with a mixture of gratitude and shame, I find myself choking on the realization that tomorrow we will have the most Veterans we’ve ever had; and if we keep going at the rate we are going, the fewest we ever will. But we can stop it. We can do something different. When I call my dad and brother to thank them, I will again say a silent prayer for peace, hoping that next year I won’t have to.

–Written by Lisa Ellen Silvestri, author of “Friended at the Front: Social Media in the American War Zone