Moral Low Ground



“Let me just deal with the oil thing because… the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It’s not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons…”

-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, February 6, 2003.

There was no “oil conspiracy” involving Britain’s top oil firms and the UK and US government. There was only “oil fact.”

It’s now been revealed that plans to exploit Iraq’s enormous oil reserves were discussed by UK government ministers and some of the world’s largest oil companies in 2002, the year before the Blair government decided to be Washington’s number one sidekick in its ill-advised invasion of Iraq.

The Independent reports that minutes from secret meetings between government ministers and oil company executives prove that the US and UK governments were lying when they claimed they were only going after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein because they believed he possessed weapons of mass destruction.

No such weapons were ever found. Meanwhile, UK and US oil companies hold massive stakes in Iraqi oil projects.

In October 2002, five months prior to the invasion, then-Trade Minister Baroness Symons met with BP executives and told them her government was of the opinion that British energy firms ought to get their fair share of Iraq’s oil and gas reserves as a reward for London’s support for US imperialism. The secret memos prove Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf; the company feared it was being “locked out” of Washington’s deals with US, French and Russian oil companies and the governments in Paris and Moscow.

From a meeting between Symons, BP, Shell and BG (British Gas) on October 31, 2002:

“Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

Foreign Office memo from November 13, 2002, describing a meeting with BP on October 6:

“Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity to compete. The long-term potential is enormous…”

In October 2002, Foreign Office Middle East director Edward Chaplin noted:

“Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

As the buildup for war reached a fevered crescendo in the winter of 2002-2003, both the coalition governments and the oil companies in those countries lied through their teeth about their true motivation for toppling Saddam Hussein. On March 12, 2003, BP CEO Lord Browne declared:

“It is not in my or BP’s opinion, a war about oil. Iraq is an important producer, but it must decide what to do with its patrimony and oil.”

Another BP statement from March 12:

“We have no strategic interest in Iraq. If whoever comes to power wants Western involvement post the war, if there is a war, all we have ever said is that it should be on a level playing field. We are certainly not pushing for involvement.”

Contrast those words with what BP told the Foreign Office in private:

“[Iraq’s oil is] more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time.”

BP wasn’t the only energy firm lying about its involvement in planning the resource grab in postwar Iraq. Shell dismissed reports that the company met to discuss Iraqi oil opportunities with British leaders as “highly inaccurate”:

“We have neither sought nor attended meetings with officials in the UK government on the subject of Iraq. The subject has only come up during conversations during normal meetings we attend from time to time with officials… We have never asked for ‘contracts.'”

But the more than 1,000 documents obtained by author Greg Muttitt under Freedom of Information prove otherwise. At least five meetings between government officials and BP and Shell executives in late 2002.

Of course, the foreign firms got their hands on Iraq’s oil once the dust of the invasion settled. Surprisingly, US firms did not fare as well as one may think. But according to the Independent, BP now controls 38% of the 17.8 billion barrel Rumaila oil field, Shell got a 30% stake in the 8.6 billion barrel West Qurna field, and ExxonMobil is enjoying a 60% share of that same West Qurna black gold bonanza.

(Click here for a graphic on Iraq’s burgeoning oil industry)

The foreign oil firms signed highly lucrative 20-year contracts– the largest in oil history. They covered half of the country’s known reserves, or about 60 billion barrels of oil. Chinese, Russian and French firms also made out like bandits.

Says Muttitt, who has written a new book on Iraq called Fuel on Fire: “Before the war, the Government went to great lengths to insist it had no interest in Iraq’s oil. These documents provide the evidence that give the lie to those claims. We see that oil was in fact one of the Government’s most important strategic considerations, and it secretly colluded with oil companies to give them access to that huge prize.”

And what ever became of Lady Symons? According to the Independent, she “took up an advisory post with a UK merchant bank that cashed in on post-war Iraq reconstruction contracts. Last month she severed links as an unpaid adviser to Libya’s National Economic Development Board after Colonel Gaddafi started firing on protesters.”

Now it’s Libya’s oil the US and UK are after. The more things change…

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