WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Most Americans think President Bush invaded Iraq at least partly because of its oil -- a war more than half rate him as "poor" in handling and nearly all say has affected the price of gas at the pump.
The UPI/Zogby International interactive poll of 6,909 U.S. adults Jan. 16-18 found 32.7 percent considered Iraq's oil supply a "major factor" and 23.7 percent "not a factor" in the decision to invade the country. Another 40.7 percent were split somewhere in between while 2.9 percent were "not sure."
The poll, released Tuesday, had a margin of error of 1.2 percent and comes as Iraq's draft oil law -- still mired in factional fighting -- has become a main focus of the Bush administration.
The law is one of Bush's benchmarks for success for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and if the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds agree on it, it is seen as a pathway for easing tensions altogether.
"We are supporting Iraqi efforts to reach agreement on the new oil law," not making any decisions, a U.S. State Department official speaking on background told United Press International. "We are providing detailed technical support for the process as well as providing political support where necessary."
When pressed for more details on U.S. involvement in the law negotiations, the official said "let's wait until they get the agreement. Once they get it done we can talk about how we got there."
Iraq has 115 billion barrels of proven crude reserves, third most in the world, and analysts say much more is undiscovered. But its industry suffers from decades of misuse and mismanagement, U.N. sanctions and war.
A federal hydrocarbon law that would lay the groundwork for investment and contracts for further exploration and extraction of Iraqi oil and gas is stuck in a skirmish between the central and regional powers over control and revenue sharing.
Tariq Shafiq, an oil consultant, former Iraq oil official and current drafter of the hydrocarbon law said during a U.S. Institute of Peace discussion of the law last week there is no American involvement. Jonathan Morrow, a Kurdistan Regional Government oil law adviser and fellow USIP participant, concurred with Shafiq, one of their few agreements.
A former U.S. official close to Iraq oil law negotiations told UPI on condition of anonymity "there's a lawyer there that works as part of our (U.S.) efforts ... he's an oil lawyer," adding "does that mean we're going to write that agreement? No."
"Our policy since the beginning of the war is that it's their oil, it's their decision," said Michael Makovsky, special assistant in the Office of Secretary of Defense on Iraqi energy policy from 2002 to 2006.
"If we have any role at all there, hopefully its very subtle and behind the scenes," said James Phillips, research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "The Bush administration is walking a tight rope here between respecting Iraqi sovereignty and trying to help Iraq make a very rocky transition," he said.
But U.S. eyes have been on Iraq's oil since before the war.
Documents obtained in a 2002 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch found Vice President Dick Cheney's secret Energy Task Force included maps and charts of Iraq's oil infrastructure and projects as well as a list of "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts."
A pre-war oil and energy working group of the U.S. State Department's Future of Iraq project also focused on Iraq's oil sector.
The U.S. Agency for International Development in 2004 announced an Iraq contract with McLean, Va.-based consultant BearingPoint for "broad economic reform," BearingPoint spokesman Steve Lunceford told UPI Oct. 18.
He said it included "privatization of the oil industry."
In a follow up e-mail directing further questions to USAID, he wrote "we are assisting the Iraqi government in review of many economic policy efforts, including reinvigorating its oil industry."
In April 2005, Ahmed Chalabi, the U.S. government's main source for reasons to go to war, who told the Washington Post in 2002 "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil," was made Iraq's oil minister.
Current Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani met with international oil company officials last July at the U.S. Energy Department to talk about Iraq's oil sector.
And this month, despite federal oil law negotiations still ongoing, Bush commented numerous times on what should be done with the oil revenue; White House spokesman Tony Snow said Iraq's oil won't be nationalized and U.S. companies will have investment "opportunity"; and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate committee what the Kurds won't get from the hydrocarbon law.
"The Bush administration has consistently placed enormous pressure on the al-Maliki government to pass an oil law that would open Iraq from a nationalized oil system to one that would transform to allow private foreign investment and the only thing being debated at this point is the extent private companies would have access to the Iraqi oil market," said Antonia Juhasz, visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and author of "The Bush Agenda."
"One could argue if the war was waged for that purpose. It certainly seems clear that it's being maintained for that purpose."
When asked to rate Bush's handling of the war, 55.3 percent in the UPI/Zogby poll said "poor" and only 7.3 percent said the war had "no impact" on U.S. gas prices.
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