Iraq’s oil and Labour lies / FRFI 221 Jun/Jul 2011

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

On 22 May the last British troops left Iraq when 81 Royal Navy trainers left the southern port of Umm Qasr. That same day there were at least ten bomb attacks across the country. Foreign Secretary Hague declared that the allies had left Iraq ‘a much better place than we found it’. In 2010 the death toll from attacks in Iraq was 4,038 or 11 a day. So far this year 1,200 Iraqis have been killed in attacks. 179 British military personnel were killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Iraq’s dead run into hundreds of thousands.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq was primarily about maintaining US strategic domination in the area. However, an important secondary consideration was undoubtedly the exploitation of Iraq’s vast oil reserves. In March 2003 Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair described the ‘oil conspiracy theory’ as ‘the most absurd’ and British oil companies Shell and BP denied they had any strategic interest in Iraq.

Government documents obtained by The Independent, however, reveal that Labour ministers and government officials were planning for British oil companies to take part in the carve up of Iraqi oil several months before the invasion, at a time when Blair was still pretending that Saddam Hussein could stay in power if he co-operated with UN weapons inspectors.

Foreign Office Middle East Director Edward Chaplin wrote in October 2002, ‘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 share of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.’ In November 2002, the Foreign Office invited BP to talks about oil opportunities ‘post regime change’ and later commented, ‘BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.’ Trade minister Baroness Symons told BP that the Labour government believed British firms should be given a share of Iraq’s oil and gas as a reward for Blair’s commitment to US plans and promised to lobby the Bush administration. In 2004, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who as ambassador to the UN had argued for the invasion and who was later Britain’s special representative to Iraq, took a post as special adviser to BP. He met with the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, to lobby for BP’s involvement.

Now, after the slaughter of over a million Iraqi people, the dispersal and ethnic cleansing of millions more and the destruction of the country’s infrastructure, the oil companies have that reward. BP holds a 38% stake in the Rumaila oil field, Iraq’s largest, where output could reach 3% of the world’s total within five years. Shell holds part of the second largest field, West Qurna 1, and the Majnoon field on the border with Iran.

Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserves and has ambitious plans to expand production. Its target of 12 million barrels per day by 2016 is not considered feasible by most experts, but even with half that amount Iraq would overtake Iran as the world’s second biggest producer. It could undercut the price of oil, to the benefit of the imperialist and industrialised countries, but affect other OPEC producers and the balance of power in the region.

Meanwhile, the US plans to continue its occupation of Iraq in order to maintain its authority over the region and its oil. It wants Iraqi Prime Minister Al Maliki to sign a new agreement allowing some 10,000 to 16,000 US troops to remain. Al Maliki has already agreed to negotiations on ‘future co-operation with the US in the field of arming and training’ and US Admiral Mullen has further highlighted Iraq’s need for an adequate air force and intelligence facilities. Some Iraqi politicians are opposed and supporters of Moqtada Al Sadr have held demonstrations against the US’s continuing presence, but Al Maliki and the Iraqi military are thought to be in favour.

Jim Craven