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Iraq: US Army Depots Named After Oil Giants

by Neela BanerjeeNew York Times
March 27th, 2003

The subtleties surrounding the sensitive role oil plays in the Iraqi war may have eluded the United States Army. Deep in some newspaper coverage yesterday was a report that the 101st Airborne Division had named one central Iraq outpost Forward Operating Base Shell and another Forward Operating Base Exxon.

The Pentagon shrugged off concerns that now might not be the time to mention the names of foreign oil companies on Iraqi soil. "The forward bases are normally refueling points they're basically gas stations in the desert," a Pentagon spokeswoman said. "Whether or not we're going to lecture everyone that, due to political sensitivities, you should be careful what you call your gas stations, I don't know if that's something that should be done or would be done."

Neither Royal Dutch/Shell nor Exxon knew about the Iraqi bases. Cerris Tavinor, a spokeswoman for Shell, heard of the base only when a reporter called.

"We don't have anything in Iraq," Ms. Tavinor said. "Clearly they pick their names for whatever they want to use."

Tom Cirigliano, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said he first heard of the bases when he read a press review on Wednesday morning, but the mention did not bother the company, the world's largest publicly traded corporation.

"My first reaction when I saw it was this was not a political statement in any way by the men and women of 101st," Mr. Cirigliano said. "I think the 101st was being pretty creative and naming things after what reminds them of home. And I think that's pretty neat."

But others involved in the oil industry say the Pentagon's indifference to the names of the bases was poorly considered. "You have this atmosphere of suspicion and apprehension now, and that's just among your allies," Jan Stuart, head of research for global energy futures at ABN Amro, the Dutch investment bank, said. "And in this atmosphere, you call your own supply effort this. It's mind-boggling the degree of insensitivity. There is little doubt the Americans will win the war, but you have to wonder how people who are so insensitive are going to win the peace."

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