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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power