The vacuity of ‘war-for-oil’

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.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

7 thoughts on “The vacuity of ‘war-for-oil’”

  1. Attention fellow trolls curious re Nafissa Assed and ancestors/relatives/associates: this posting illustrates why Idrees must be addressed with respect, even if he is occasionally dead wrong about something.

    But I do have a complaint, again about the way the Comment box is placed below the title of the article following the one I wish to comment on.
    I have another problem, but it probably is not in the purview of the Pulse editors — WordPress has a whole menu of partial versions of my username and email address, which means when entering the Required Fields marked with an *, after typing the first letter of each I have to leave the keyboard and grab the mouse to select the real u-name & e-addy.

    I wonder if I sent an email to Webmaster at wordpress, would I get a response?

    Enough whining, more props to Idrees for this excellent piece.

    1. one more slander of nafissa, a volunteer writer on this site, a friend of mine, someone who lived through the terror of qaddafi’s tripoli and whose relatives are still in the firing line, and you will be banned from commenting. she is a person of excellent character, unlike you. you may continue with your criticisms of my or idrees’s point of view and of the intervention in libya, but you may not continue to slander nafissa.

  2. Now that you understand this, you also understand the main reason for the war in Libya. Oil is a nice extra that comes along with turning Libya into a toothless failed state like Iraq.

  3. The oil certainly is a considerable incentive and part of the overall PNAC plan to make a wholesale bloc of failed states in the oil bearing regions of the Middle East so as to control matters via means which would not ordinarily be as easily tolerated in peacetime. The seldom acknowledged War Game Post-Saddam Iraq : Desert Crossing makes the destruction of Iraq an essential piece in this ploy by letting the Kurds loose.
    Nor should the name AIPAC be a mystery.
    Yet oil is not the only treasure in a desert.

    GMR (Great Man-made River) Water Supply Project, Libya
    Col. Khadaffi is a genuine eccentric, and told me he was determined to make Libya independent of threats of foreign food embargos, no matter the cost. So the project went ahead, in spite of ever-tightening American trade sanctions designed to cripple Libya’s economy and bring down the unloved Khadaffi, who was, until Saddam Hussein, Washington’s favorite villain.

    Now that the pipeline is nearing the coast, US security officials are raising a hue and cry that the Man-Made River is really a gigantic version of North Korea’s tunnels under the DMZ, built to shelter troops from air attack and launch surprise attacks. Washington claims the tunnels are designed to allow Libyan forces to suddenly debouche on the borders of Egypt, Chad and Tunisia. Libya, asserted the US, had also built huge, underground storage areas to hold armor, artillery and munitions.

    This system is directly linked, said Washington, to Libya’s alleged underground chemical/biological weapons complex at Tarhunah, south of Tripoli. From this hollowed-out mountain, the Libyans would ship containers of poison gas and toxins to smite their enemies, safe from US air attack.

    All this sounds straight out of Flash Gordon. Col. Khadaffi has become a later-day Ming the Merciless, complete with his barrels of Purple Death powder to be rained down on the United States. Washington also claims Libya has stockpiled a vast, Soviet-supplied arsenal of weapons, ready to be unleashed against Israel.
    Why Gaddafi’s wells may run dry
    New Scientist 6 Sep 1984

  4. @opit,

    Can you elaborate on the New Scientist article. Are you saying that the New Scientist article is part of the psy-op campaign or is there some legitimacy to the article.

    I find it odd that the “Left” or environmentalists never spoke of the Libyan’s Man-Made river.

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