Companies waiting in the wings for Iraqi riches

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The Independent Online

This public slap in the face to Britain's biggest EU partners gave an insight into what was really concentrating US and British minds. Having constructed a tortuous case for war over Iraq's lack of co-operation with the UN security Council, plans were being laid for post-Saddam Iraq excluding non-coalition countries.

Straw's remarks revealed the focused on Iraqs oil. The World's four oil giants (BP, Exxon, Chevron and Shell) , have been desperate to get back into Iraq, since being booted out in the nationalisation of 1972.

Iraq sits on the world's second largest proven oil reserves, expected to increase to reserves of 200-plus billion barrels of high-grade crude. No one doubts Bush's determination to ensure "friendly" companies gain the lion's share of lucrative oil contracts - worth hundreds of billions of dollars over many decades.

Iraq's new constitution - practically written by US and Foreign office advisors, guarantees a major role for foreign companies. Production Sharing Agreements would hand over control of dozens of oil fields, like the gian Majnoon .

After next month's elections, when a new Iraqi government takes over and contracts are signed it will become clearer how much oil was part of London and Washington's pre-war plans.