The [U.S.] Energy Department, which regularly reviews oil-producing countries, estimates Iraq's foreign debt at between $100 billion and $200 billion. The U.S. is working on a broad plan to set up the economy of a post-Hussein government, and dealing with the debt is part of that plan.
Who are these creditors? Let's start naming names:
One company already seeking repayment from Baghdad, for about $1.1 billion in debt, is Hyundai. The company was one of nearly a dozen Korean contractors that made a push into Iraq in the late 1970s, seeking to reap big cash rewards from the petrodollars then washing over the Middle East. In all, Hyundai landed 34 infrastructure projects that were set to earn the company more than $4 billion in revenue. The company built power stations, housing complexes, a fertilizer plant and an expressway linking Baghdad to neighboring Jordan and Syria.
But following the initial imposition of U.N. sanctions on Iraq in 1990, Mr. Hussein's government placed a moratorium on all debt payments. Hyundai has kept a representative office in Baghdad and annually confirms the debts owed to it with Iraqi government officials. The company also filed lawsuits in London and New York to try to get back some of the cash it is owed. Today, Hyundai officials say the possible arrival of a new Iraqi government, backed by Washington and its allies, offers a real chance to settle its debts.
"We'll be in a much better position to get back the money, as they're sovereign debts owned to Hyundai," says Min Su Kwang, Hyundai's executive vice president in charge of foreign contracts. Mr. Min says the firm is expecting a creditors committee to be set up once the war is over. Hyundai officials say the company is looking at alternative ways for Iraq to pay back its debt, such as the transfer of even more crude oil or awarding the company reconstruction contracts.
So regime change will benefit Hyundai. I feel better as an American taxpayer already.
But, wait, there's more...
States such as Russia and France also are expected to get in line for debt repayments once the war is over. Moscow says Iraq owes it at least $9 billion, mostly for weapons supplied during the Soviet era. Government officials have said in recent days that they expect repayment, despite Russia's strong opposition to the U.S.-led war. "Our priority is to protect our lawful interests," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said this week.
Russian companies, too, will have claims to press when the dust settles. Mr. Hussein has promised half a dozen Russian concerns the rights to develop big oil deposits, though only two of the deals have been solidified in contracts, according to Russian officials. The rest are described as handshake agreements.
Dumb move. Looks like Pootie-Poot misplaced his bet in opposing Junior's war. An oral agreement with Saddam Hussein isn't worth... oh, never mind.
Smartest of all? The French. They wrote the bad debt off.
French companies, historically among Iraq's biggest trading partners, have written off the money owed them by Mr. Hussein's regime, analysts say. Iraq's unpaid bills to France, for weapons and other purchases, come to between €2.13 billion and €2.44 billion ($2.26 billion and $2.59 billion), according to a report written for the French National Assembly's Defense Commission.
Meanwhile, with a $75 billion down payment on the war, US taxpayers will protect Hyundai from Saddam Hussein's bad credit history. And the world will be safer for American corporations. Or at least more creditworthy, thanks to the Bush-invoked generosity of the US Treasury.
Next expense for the American taxpayer: protecting South Korea and Japan from North Korea.