British government memos obtained under freedom of information requests by oil industry researcher Greg Muttitt have revealed the oil profits were a key motivator of the UK’s participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. On April 19, the British Independent daily published a major story about these disclosures.
Quoting the released British documents, the Independent showed BP lusting after an expected windfall profits from the expected post-“regime change” privatisation of Iraqi oil. According to the Independent’s summary of the documents: “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’ …”
Of course, consistent with the bogus government line, both before and since, that the Iraq invasion was about the “threat” posed by Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, then-BP chief executive Lord Browne insisted on March 12, 2003, a week before the invasion of Iraq: “It is not in my or BP’s opinion, a war about oil.” This, however, was not what the big oil corporations were telling government ministers in private. The minutes of a meeting between then-trade minister Baroness Symons with BP and Shell on October 31, 2002, clearly revealed that British oil companies insisted they must not lose out in competing for Iraqi oil contracts, particularly “if the U.K. had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis”.
The documents reveal that in late 2002, at least five meetings were held between British civil servants and ministers and BP and Shell executives. Summarising the content of these meetings, the Independent reported: “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.”
On February 6, 2003, then-PM Tony Blair stated, “The idea that we’re interested in Iraq’s oil is absurd, it’s one of the most absurd conspiracy theories you can imagine”. However, a previously secret British Foreign Office document setting out British strategy toward Iraqi oil asserted, “Britain has an absolutely vital interest in Iraq’s oil”. Half of Iraq’s proven reserves (60 billion barrels) have now been acquired by major international oil companies, including BP. Their consortium, with BP holding a 39% stake, is set to profit from the exploitation of Iraq’s oil to the tune of £403 million (US$658 million) per year from the Rumaila oil field, initially discovered by BP in the 1950s.
In the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion, some US administration officials let down their guard. In May 2003, then deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz nonchalantly responded to a question about why Washington had attacked Iraq, but not North Korea, by noting that Iraq “floats on a sea of oil”. And as the years have worn on, former US administration officials have openly acknowledged what really motivated the Iraq war. Thus, in his 2007 book The Age of Turbulence, former head of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan wrote: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”