Leading article: How the wheels of this misadventure were oiled

Tony Blair was certainly not shy about championing the interests of British oil companies in Iraq

Share
Related Topics

Tony Blair has always maintained that Iraq's oil reserves did not cross his mind in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. But Iraq's abundant oil supplies had certainly crossed the minds of the British energy giant BP. As this newspaper reported yesterday, documents reveal that the oil company discussed Iraq's fossil fuel reserves in considerable detail with government officials in late 2002.

Indeed, BP was pressing for a share of the spoils in the wake of "regime change" in Iraq. When the company feared it was being excluded from agreements made in Washington to carve up access to Iraq's oil supplies, the former trade minister Baroness Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf.

This is a significant finding because it casts doubt on Mr Blair's claim that his government was a disinterested party when it came to the question of Iraq's oil wealth. But it is also significant because, at the time these documents were written, the former Prime Minister was still insisting that Saddam Hussein could remain in power if he co-operated with United Nations weapons inspectors. It is hard to reconcile the claim that no decision on military action had been taken with these extensive behind-the-scenes preparations to divide access to Iraq's natural resources.

Prior to the invasion, Mr Blair said that the idea that the invasion was, in any way, motivated by Iraq's oil was "absurd". He argued in a debate hosted by BBC's Newsnight in February 2003 that if oil was the West's goal, it could just as easily have cut a deal with Saddam. Yet this does not serve to refute the argument that oil was a motivation behind toppling the Iraqi dictator. It is perfectly possible that Western powers anticipated getting access to Iraq's oil on favourable terms after the removal of Saddam.

This is not fanciful speculation. The US was conspicuously slow to hand over power to an Iraqi civilian government in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority was only disbanded after protests by the dominant Shia community. The US gave every impression that it wanted to continue pulling the strings in Iraq, including over the awarding of energy contracts. Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, for one, has reached the conclusion that the Iraq war was "largely about oil".

As for Mr Blair, the former Prime Minister was certainly not shy about championing the interests of British oil companies around the world. When he met Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan desert in 2007, Mr Blair saw fit to take the then chairman of BP, Peter Sutherland, along with him. A few days later, BP signed a $900m exploration deal with the Libya Investment Corporation. Realpolitik was entwined with access to fossil fuels in Libya. It is no great stretch to imagine that there were similar motivations over Iraq.

These documents do not prove that the British government's invasion was primarily motivated by a commercial desire to profit from Iraq's oil. Indeed, it is probably too simplistic to present any single factor as the decisive motivation for this calamitous misadventure. But they do make it clear that, contrary to ministerial denials, oil was something that ministers were thinking about in those months prior to the invasion.

These documents were not, apparently, reviewed by the Chilcot inquiry, which has been tasked with investigating Britain's involvement in the Iraq invasion. That is manifestly unsatisfactory. No independent inquiry into the Iraq imbroglio can be complete without taking into account the influence of Big Oil. Unless Chilcot takes this important new evidence into consideration, it is hard to see how its conclusions can be credible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Benedict Cumberbatch attends a special screening of his latest film The Imitation Game  

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: What's the actual difference between 'coloured' and 'person of colour'?

Matthew Norman
Pressure is growing on Chris Grayling to abandon the Government bid to advise Saudi Arabia on running its prisons (Getty)  

What in sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Justice Secretary?

Matthew Norman
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore