U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
WASHINGTON – A Congressional delegation was kicked out of Iraq after the leader of the group, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., asked Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki if a portion of future oil revenues could be used to pay back money spent over the course of eight years by the United States following the 2003 invasion to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The ouster came amid efforts by U.S. officials to get al-Maliki to request an extension of U.S. troops in Iraq past the Dec. 31 deadline when all U.S. troops are supposed to be out of the country.
“We called the U.S. embassy…and we told them to ask the congressmen to leave Iraq,” according to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. “We don’t want them here. What they said was inappropriate.”
Rohrabacher said that he posed the question in the form of request to the prime minister. Al-Dabbagh, however, disputes that the California congressman raised it with al-Maliki.
Rohrabacher, who is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was adamant that he took up the issue with al-Maliki.
“Once Iraq becomes a very rich and prosperous country, we would hope that some consideration be given to repaying the U.S. some of the mega-dollars that we have spent here in the last eight years,” Rohrabacher said.
Indeed, such a request is not unprecedented. During Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-1991, also known as the First Gulf War, the U.S. received payment from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for U.S. intervention in Kuwait to remove the invading Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein.
Since the March 2003 U.S. invasion, the U.S. has spent an estimated $1 trillion during the occupation and reconstruction, with some 4,462 service members killed and an estimated 100,000 wounded, many seriously.
At present, some 45,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq performing training and equipping of Iraqi soldiers.
The Rohrabacher-led, six-person bi-partisan delegation was in Iraq to investigate a camp that housed Iranian dissidents, 34 of whom were allegedly massacred by Iraqi security forces.
Al-Maliki also barred the U.S. congressional delegation from visiting the camp where the clash took place, citing Iraqi sovereignty as the basis for the denial.
Despite the denial of access, Rohrabacher said that he would seek a criminal probe of whether the Iraqis had mistreated the dissidents.
Sources say that there is some question whether the U.S. Congress has the authority to investigate potential criminal conduct in Iraq.
“We are investigating to see if criminal behavior caused the death of these non-combatants,” Rohrabacher said. “The killing of unarmed people, a mass killing, is a criminal act and a crime against humanity.”
The dissidents are from the MEK, or Mujahidin-e Khalq, and are opposed to the Shi’ite Iranian regime which has considerable influence over al-Maliki, who also is Shi’ite.
Saddam Hussein had used the MEK, which the U.S. at one point had declared to be a terrorist group. In backing Hussein, the MEK was used by the Hussein regime to perform internal security. At one point during the Hussein period, there were a considerable number of MEK camps spread throughout Iraq.
Following the U.S. invasion, the MEK began to work with U.S. Special Forces and ultimately the organization was removed from the U.S. terrorist list.
Because of Iran’s influence, al-Maliki is under considerable pressure from the Islamic regime to decide against requesting an extension of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31 deadline when they are due to leave.
In requesting that a portion of oil revenues be used to pay back money the U.S. has spent in Iraq over the past eight years, however, Rohrabacher was expressing a viewpoint made by policymakers during the Bush administration to make U.S. intervention more palatable.
In testimony given on March 27, 2003 – a week following the U.S. invasion of Iraq – then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the House Appropriations Committee that oil revenue from Iraq alone would pay for Iraq’s reconstruction after the Iraq war.
At the time, Wolfowitz said that oil revenues from Iraq could bring up to $100 billion over the course of the “next two or three years.”
Back then, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of the occupation was up to some $48 billion a year. At the time, it was estimated that the U.S. occupation could last 18 months or more.
“Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon,” Wolfowitz told the committee at the time.
At the Pentagon back then, Andrew Marshall, the influential director of the Net Assessment Office, also had recommended that oil revenues be used to defray the cost of the military occupation in Iraq.
A source involved in writing the Net Assessment Office report said that the conclusion reflected many senior Bush administration officials.
“They’re not just going to take the Iraqi oil and use it for Iraq’s purpose. They will charge the Iraqis for the U.S. cost of operating in Iraq,” the source said at the time. “I don’t think they’re planning as far as I know to use Iraqi oil to pay for the invasion, but they are going to use it to pay for the occupation.”
Indeed, there were proposals for the U.S. to seize revenues to pay for the occupation and tap Iraq’s oil to help pay for the cost of the U.S. military occupation.
Other senior administration officials at the time similarly felt that oil revenues could help defray the cost of the U.S. Iraqi occupation.
“Iraq is a very wealthy country. Enormous oil reserves,” said Richard Perle who then was chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, a key advisory group to the Secretary of Defense. “They can finance, largely finance the reconstruction of their own country. And I have no doubt that they will.”
Kenneth Pollack, then director for Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council, said in September 2002 that “it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars.”
And there was Glenn Hubbard, then White House economic advisor, who said: “The costs of any intervention would be very small.”