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September 30, 2015; International Business Times

David Sirota and Andrew Perez write for the International Business Times that in the years between her 2002 Senate vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq and her statement this year, as a presidential candidate, that her vote was a “mistake,” Hillary Clinton was plumping Iraq as a “business opportunity” for U.S. corporations.

According to a 2013 email just released by the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides in 2011 hosted an “engaging roundtable discussion on investing in Iraq with senior executives from 30 U.S. companies and senior representatives from the U.S. and Iraqi governments.” The email quotes then-Secretary Clinton, apparently one of the senior government representatives in the session, as having said, “It’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity.”

Sirota and Perez note that the email specifically mentioned JPMorgan Chase and ExxonMobil, both of which signed deals with the U.S. government—JPMorgan to run an export-import bank in Iraq and ExxonMobil to redevelop Iraqi oil fields. It is doubtful that too many people will be surprised to learn that there were business interests competing with the U.S. government’s much more loudly touted security and humanitarian motivations in the decision to invade Iraq. Nonetheless, Sirota and Perez include comments from the likes of former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and former general John Abizaid acknowledging that, in Greenspan’s words, “The Iraq war is largely about oil.”

The State Department email about the roundtable (available on Scribd) indicates that the unnamed business sector participants in the session were no dummies. Several identified numerous constraints they would face as investors in the war-ravaged country and listed U.S. government actions that they thought would improve the risk and benefit climate for them in Iraq. The challenges listed by the participants included “security, basic services, infrastructure, corruption, taxation, and Iraq’s bureaucracy” as well as specific issues such as the lack of sovereign guarantees and a sovereign credit rating from Baghdad. Deputy Secretary Nides committed the State Department to helping U.S. companies investing in Iraq, including more direct support—presumably subsidy—from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Disturbingly for NGOs, the business executives pressed for “a stronger emphasis for USAID on helping U.S. businesses,” a direction that USAID has been trending toward for some time under both the Bush and Obama administrations, though apparently not with the alacrity that the business sector might have wanted.

The two IBT authors make a point of the participation of JPMorgan and ExxonMobil in the roundtable, the two firms’ designation for government deals in Iraq, and their contributions to the Clinton charitable juggernaut ($450,000 from JPMorgan, $1 million from ExxonMobil). Whether they were getting specific U.S. government support for deals in Iraq or not, many of the roundtable participants were or are major corporate players with interests in Iraq and interests in the Clinton Foundation—or both. (The email referenced an attached participants list, but that attachment was not available on Scribd.)

Corporation Sample Iraq Investments Donations to the Clinton Foundation
ExxonMobil ExxonMobil has two affiliates in Iraq, ExxonMobil in Iraq Ltd. with extensive business operations in the West Qurna oil fields and ExxonMobil Kurdistan Region of Iraq with a production-sharing contract for 848,000 acres in Kurdistan. $1m-$5m
JPMorgan Chase Selected (along with other banks) to run the Trade Bank of Iraq; along with Citigroup and Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan was designated in 2015 as the lead manager for marketing an Iraqi Eurobond. Speaking fees to the Foundation between $250,001 and $500,000
Ventech Engineers Ventech provided utilities and processing equipment for the expansion of the Kalak oil refinery; Ventech’s CEO told the Houston Business Journal that it has built the only refineries in Iraq for producing unleaded gasoline.  
Lockheed Martin In 2014, Lockheed began delivery of 36 F-16 fighter jets to the Iraqi Air Force in a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense; in 2015, Lockheed won a contract for providing in-country sustainment for the Iraq military’s C-130 aircraft. $100,001-$250,000
Oxy (Occidental Petroleum) 20-year production-sharing contract with the South Oil Company of Iraq to develop the Zubair field”; Occidental and its partners got approval from the Iraq gov’t in 2014 to produce 850,000 barrels of oil per day from the site. $10,001-$25,000
NTELX NTELX’s Jordanian subsidiary Nafith Logistics (created with the assistance of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency) got the “concession agreement to provide a comprehensive system to manage truck access to Iraq’s seaports and border crossings.”  
360 Architects (acquired by HOK) Received a contract from the Iraq Ministry of Youth and Sport for two 30,000-seat stadiums in Basra and Najaf after receiving designation for the 65,000-seat Basra Sports City. Provided pro bono architectural design services as the design partner for the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center.
Goldman Sachs Picked along with Deutsche Bank for a Kurdistan bond sale. $1m-$5m from Goldman Sachs plus $250,001-$500,000 from the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund; also speaking fees to the Foundation between $250,001 and $500,000

One might infer from the Sirota/Perez article that the corporations that got Iraq business deals, which in the chaos and disintegration of Iraq under the Malaki and now Abadi regimes require close U.S. attention and support, curried favor with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State by making donations to the Clinton Foundation—or that they expressed their gratitude for the government’s support of their Iraqi investments by donating to the foundation. (Note: Several of the companies have made significant program commitments to the Clinton Global Initiative, and Lockheed, Goldman, JPMorgan, and ExxonMobil have appeared at past CGI conferences.)

Our guess is that that connecting these companies’ gifts to the Clinton Foundation to their business deals in Iraq, with the likelihood that some may have already started evacuating company expats due to the ISIS onslaught, is pretty tenuous. Moreover, the financial prowess of Goldman and JPMorgan and the military hardware capabilities of Lockheed make them naturals for some of these U.S. government-supported deals whether they supported the Clinton Foundation or not. The article does demonstrate, however, the closeness of the Clinton Foundation (and Hillary Clinton herself) to some major corporate players that one would think would not agree on much with a “progressive” Democratic candidate. Looking at Iraq as fertile ground for corporate moneymaking even as the shell-shocked nation was falling apart ought to tell many people about the primacy of (oil) commerce in addition to (or perhaps above) security and humanitarian concerns in the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Nonetheless, the fact that Sirota and Perez quickly saw that the State department business roundtable participants with significant Iraq contract work included some big donors to the Clinton Foundation points to a problem that will dog Hillary Clinton’s campaign more than her for-and-against attitudes toward the Iraq invasion. The Clinton Foundation’s operations and relationships with corporate donors during Clinton’s time as Secretary of State will be a venue for conjecture and investigation throughout the presidential campaign, pointing to the all-but-obvious issue that foundations associated with or run by politicians with electoral desires can be as much problem as benefit to an aspiring candidate.—Rick Cohen