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Video: No Exit: Iraq's oil and Iran's influence

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    >>> now, tonight, there are about 5,000 u.s. troops left in iraq . and president obama has pledged they'll all be out by new year's eve. you may remember the brutal fighting in and around the city of basra , the largest in southern iraq . is military withdrawal does not necessarily translate into safety and security. iran isn't far away and iran exerts huge power there. ted koppel now continues his reporting from basra .

    >> reporter: think of it this way. the u.s. is withdrawing a highly visible presence in iraq , and replacing it with a presence that is all but invisible. the former marines and special operations forces who now serve here in iraq as civilian security contractors like for the most part to stay below the radar. but there is one place where their former and present affiliations are clearly spelled out. here on this memorial plaque . triple canopy , triple canopy , triple canopy , all civilian contractors. an estimated 1,500 of these contractors have died in iraq since 2003 . and it's not over. often it's those whose names we don't know, the men and women who continue to operate covertly. the security measures we can't show you that most eloquently make the case. the united states is not leaving iraq . i realize you can't go into it in any detail but i would assume there's a healthy cia mission here. i would assume jsoc may still be active in this country, joint special operations . you've got fbi here, you've got dea here. can you get me sort of a menu of who all falls under your control?

    >> you're actually doing pretty well, were i authorized to talk about half of this stuff.

    >> reporter: a state department plane brings us to basra , scene of some of iraq 's bloodiest sectarian fighting, set in some of the richest oil country in the world. overnight visitors to the u.s. consulate are given a cup of coffee and a short but mandatory briefing by security officer b.j. greene.

    >> when the alarm goes off, stay as low as possible. preferably be face-down in a prone position. you want to block your ears. we've seen attacked where it's just been one rocket. and we've seen all the way to double-digit numbers.

    >> reporter: lieutenant colonel andy posnick is the lead officer for transition in basra .

    >> who is the enemy?

    >> iranian-backed militias or posse groups. training, equipment is all coming from iran .

    >> reporter: in another couple of weeks this massive construction project will have to be finished. he and almost all the other military are leaving. among those staying, most are americans. many are security contractors. everyone reports to the consul general . piper campbell. we are standing here in the shadow of these gigantic roofs.

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: which have been built for one purpose. and it ain't to keep out the sun. it's to defend against rocket attacks.

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: this is a very dangerous area.

    >> it is.

    >> reporter: and we are really building in order to stay in a permanent way . it's a different footprint but the footprint still has an aura of danger about it.

    >> that's absolutely true.

    >> reporter: one security officer says it's like building a consulate on omaha beach . some of the 1320 people who work here call it ft. apache. if those iranian-backed militias were to launch a full-scale attack on this consulate, would the u.s. cavalry ride to the rescue?

    >> we depend upon the iraqis. ecurity support, we will turn to them and we will tell them, i've got a problem in basra , and you need to help us.

    >> reporter: the question is, will they?

    >> i believe they will.

    >> reporter: that's what an ambassador has to say about his hosts. this is the man who might actually have to deal with that nightmare. lieutenant general robert keslan. how are you going to get 1320 people out of there? if you got 24-hours' notice that something like this was going to happen? are you telling me the iraqi government would evacuate immediately? would get them all out of there?

    >> i would argue we do have a theater, whether it's in kuwait or elsewhere, that we fall under the central government , centcomm, and i feel confident centcomm has necessary assets to take whatever measure they need to do counter that attack.

    >> reporter: but why put all those people at risk in the first place? as things turned out, saddam and iraq never did have the bomb. remember? but iraq , now there's another matter. what this is all about today is iran and the bomb. iran and its support of terrorism. and yes, iran and all that iraqi oil.

    >> this field which really extends as far as you can see has been categorizeded as the air national energy association as a super giant field. there's a big oil conference taking place in basra at the end this month.

    >> reporter: tom schmidt is head of the economic section of the u.s. consulate in basra .

    >> the really amazing number is what we're flying over right now holds 1.4% of the world's total oil reserves.

    >> we don't fool ourselves. this is challenging, dangerous work.

    >> reporter: and if iranian influence in this region becomes greater than it already is, what is the impact that they could have on the u.s. economy ? quite apart from the global economy ?

    >> i think that it's clear if you had increased iranian influence in southern iran , that could work against the interests of the united states . it's not just the oil companies and the people who are drilling but it's all the different elements of support. companies like caterpillar, citibank.

    >> reporter: american national interests in the economics of this region. big, huge?

    >> huge. clearly huge.

    >> ted koppel 's here in the studio with us. first of all, welcome. it's terrific to have you here.

    >> thank you.

    >> it's terrific to have you reporting. i wrote down the words "dangerously exposed" question mark while watching the piece. so many people speaking through clenched jaws. you could almost hear it in the voice of that lieutenant colonel from the 1st cavalry . why aren't the remaining americans to be considered dangerously exposed? erously exposed. and you have to remember, brian, that the military command in iraq did not want the u.s. troops heading home. the commanding general asked for 27,000 troops to stay behind . the fact of the matter is, if the iranians were to launch an attack against the consulate in basra , you have to be willing to put your money on the iraqi government . and if the iraqi government doesn't do it, who else is going to do it? as you've heard there are a lot of american troops in that region and i will put my quota on saying, they're coming back and they'll be the ones to evacuate. but we can't pull out of iraq . it's too important. second-largest oil reserveth in the world. we used to talk about that nine years ago. haven't talked about it much the last 8 1/2. but yes, to a large extent, it is about the oil.

    >> a lot to talk about.

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