American officials have also stated publicly that the contracts undermine Baghdad’s fragile central government and that they have discouraged such deals until the Iraqi government passes a national oil law.
But earlier this month a Congressional committee released internal e-mail messages and documents from the State Department and Hunt Oil that suggested that State Department officials did not try to dissuade Hunt Oil from signing the deal with the Kurds.
This week, the acting inspector general of the State Department, Harold W. Geisel, disclosed in a letter to lawmakers, which was also provided to The New York Times, that he had “initiated a review of the responses provided to the Congress recently on the issues surrounding oil contracts, oil field development and U.S. policy in Iraq.”
The inquiry is a response to a letter from four Democratic senators — Charles E. Schumerof New York, Carl Levin of Michigan, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — requesting an investigation of how State Department policy squares with the department’s involvement in the Hunt matter as well as recent negotiations for contracts between the Iraqi government and other Western companies.
American officials have provided help drafting no-bid contracts being negotiated between the Iraqi Oil Ministry and Western companies to provide oil field services. The administration has said it provided nothing more than technical help and played no role in choosing the companies. But the contracts have been seized on by critics of the war who contend that Iraq’s oil wealth was a motivation for the 2003 invasion — an allegation the administration has repeatedly denied.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the new inquiry.
Senator Schumer predicted that the investigation “may finally help us get to the bottom of the Bush administration’s role in the awarding of oil contracts in Iraq.”
“If, as alleged, the State Department misrepresented U.S. policy to companies like Hunt, that is highly troubling,” he added. “But this probe may shed light on an even more explosive possibility — that the administration undermined U.S. policy by actively helping Iraq smooth the way for these deals.”
Among the documents disclosed earlier this month by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was an e-mail message from a senior Hunt official who stated that he was told by State Department officials in June 2007 that the American government did not object to contracts with the Kurdish regional government.
“I specifically asked if the U.S.G. had a policy toward companies entering contracts with the K.R.G.,” according to the message from the Hunt official, David McDonald, which was sent to a colleague a few weeks after the Sept. 8 deal with the Kurds. The State Department officials, he said, stated that there was no policy, neither for nor against.
He added in the e-mail message: “There was no communication to me or in my presence made by the nine State Department officials with whom I met prior to 8 September that Hunt should not pursue our course of action leading to a contract. In fact, there was ample opportunity to do so, but it did not happen.”