Tony Blair isn’t a man known for his honesty but he made at least one statement which has some merit. The Iraq war was not about oil. A report in today’s Independent claims to prove otherwise.
Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.
The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.
Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “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.”
The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.
The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”
After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, 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.”
Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time”.
BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf’s existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world’s leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take “big risks” to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.
Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.
Twelve months after George W. Bush ordered Rumsfeld to start preparing for war, BP, Shell and BG met with the UK Trade minister to ensure that they wouldn’t be ‘locked out’ of deals — and that supposedly proves that Iraq was a war for oil? It would be news if oil companies didn’t lobby for contracts. They are a business, and businesses are always looking out for opportunities. The question is not if the oil companies lobbied for contracts — it would be surprising if they didn’t — but if they lobbied for war. It says nowhere in this article that they did. But assuming that they did: did this happen before or after 9/11? It couldnt’ have been before 9/11 since at the time oil majors were busy campaigning for the lifting of sactions. I t couldn’t have been in 1996 either when oil majors joined other big businesses to found USA*Engage, an anti-sanctions lobby group campaigning against sanctions on Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan. (Also, this revelation would only be significant had Britain played the determinative role in fomenting the war.) So who was calling for war then? The Israel lobby and its neoconservative spearhead of course. Consistently, since at least 1996, but in the case of individuals like Paul Wolfowitz from as far back as 1979. One would have thought that the major contracts garnered by the Chinese, Russians, Norwegians and the French would have laid the absurd war-for-oil formula conclusively to rest.
If oil were the motive, the US and Britain had other means available to them. They could have secured Iraqi oil, even gained monopoly control, without ever having to commit a drop of blood or a dime of treasure. Throughout the autumn of 2002 and right up to the invasion, Saddam Hussein had been making desperate attempts to stave off the war, including offering exclusive oil contracts, permission for up to 20,000 FBI agents to enter Iraq and inspect its military capabilities, and even UN supervised democratic elections. But these concerns were not driving the American war; the neoconservatives were. And their chief concerns were not oil, WMDs or democracy, but the regional hegemony of Israel. So lets quit pussyfooting around the real issues and stop looking for convenient diversions.