April 19, 2011

So it was about oil..or was it?

The Independent is reporting an exposé of the discussions regarding the sharing of the spoils of the war on Iraq.  Here's the main article:
Not about oil? what they said before the invasion
* Foreign Office memorandum, 13 November 2002, following meeting with BP: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity to compete. The long-term potential is enormous..."
* Tony Blair, 6 February 2003: "Let me just deal with the oil thing because... the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It's not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons..."
* BP, 12 March 2003: "We have no strategic interest in Iraq. If whoever comes to power wants Western involvement post the war, if there is a war, all we have ever said is that it should be on a level playing field. We are certainly not pushing for involvement."
* Lord Browne, the then-BP chief executive, 12 March 2003: "It is not in my or BP's opinion, a war about oil. Iraq is an important producer, but it must decide what to do with its patrimony and oil."
* Shell, 12 March 2003, said reports that it had discussed oil opportunities with Downing Street were 'highly inaccurate', adding: "We have neither sought nor attended meetings with officials in the UK Government on the subject of Iraq. The subject has only come up during conversations during normal meetings we attend from time to time with officials... We have never asked for 'contracts'."
So what was happening before these statements were made?
Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq's enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair's military commitment to US plans for regime change.
The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf because the oil giant feared it was being "locked out" of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.
Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: "Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis."
The minister then promised to "report back to the companies before Christmas" on her lobbying efforts.
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 and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity."
After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office's Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: "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 slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq."
Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had "no strategic interest" in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was "more important than anything we've seen for a long time".
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.
Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.
The 20-year contracts signed in the wake of the invasion were the largest in the history of the oil industry. They covered half of Iraq's reserves – 60 billion barrels of oil, bought up by companies such as BP and CNPC (China National Petroleum Company), whose joint consortium alone stands to make £403m ($658m) profit per year from the Rumaila field in southern Iraq.
Last week, Iraq raised its oil output to the highest level for almost decade, 2.7 million barrels a day – seen as especially important at the moment given the regional volatility and loss of Libyan output. Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington's main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil.
Mr Muttitt, whose book Fuel on Fire is published next week, said: "Before the war, the Government went to great lengths to insist it had no interest in Iraq's oil. These documents provide the evidence that give the lie to those claims.
"We see that oil was in fact one of the Government's most important strategic considerations, and it secretly colluded with oil companies to give them access to that huge prize."
Lady Symons, 59, later took up an advisory post with a UK merchant bank that cashed in on post-war Iraq reconstruction contracts. Last month she severed links as an unpaid adviser to Libya's National Economic Development Board after Colonel Gaddafi started firing on protesters. Last night, BP and Shell declined to comment.
The Independent's Patrick Cockburn doesn't think it was all about oil:
It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil. Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11 was surely a greater motive. The UK went along with this in order to remain America's chief ally. Both President Bush and Tony Blair thought the war would be easy.

But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not.
Is any of this disturbing any more? It's certainly not surprising. Anyone who thought the Chilcot Inquiry was going to be a genuine attempt at getting to the truth about why the US and UK invaded Iraq will certainly be disappointed to know that the above mentioned "documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war". But did anyone believe that anyway?

I just checked the Chilcot Inquiry website to see if when they are going to report and if there would be an opportunity to include the new information and "On 02 February 2011, Sir John Chilcot said:
“We will provide a reliable account of almost nine years of the United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq. It is a significant task. We believe it's important that we do justice to all the oral and the huge amount of written evidence we have received. My colleagues and I are also aware but completely unsurprised that different people have different perspectives of the same event. We shall also want to reflect on the many submissions we have received. We will reach our conclusions and recommendations on the basis of our analysis of all the evidence, and in the interests of transparency and public understanding, we will, where necessary, seek the de-classification of additional documentary evidence to support and explain our report.
“It is going to take some months deliver the report itself. I don't want to set an artificial deadline on our work at this stage. What I can say is that my colleagues and I want to finish our report as quickly as possible.”
The Inquiry will deliver its report to the Prime Minister. Publication will be a matter for the government but the Inquiry expects that the report will be published as a Parliamentary paper and debated in both Houses of Parliament.
So what are the chances of the oil business being included? I'm guessing they are about as likely as the oil business being excluded from the spoils of the war.

UPDATE: Following a comment from Gabriel, I'm adding the comment to the post and I've added "or was it?" to the original title, which was "So it was about oil". Now please read on:

"Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington's main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil."
That is false. The US has no interest in cheap oil. Cheap oil mean low profits for oil companies and lower accumulation for the capitalist class. The essence of capitalism is accumulation, and the cartelisation of oil that produces profits in the thousand percents (from a cost of $3 a barrel to a "market price" of $150!) is one of most potent drivers of capitalist accumulation in the world. This is both true of the US, see the stock market capitalization of Exxon-Mobile, and in the world. See Dubai, a city constructed out of oil profits.
Note that BP didn't push for the war. It pushed for a share of the spoils after the war. That is very different. Of course, oil companies are "national". Each oil company has its own little government. BP has the UK as XOM has the US and Total has France. So once there is war, there is a "national" competition over spoils. But that wasn't the driver of the war.
"Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11" is a very stupid "motive" for war in Iraq. It is totally circular. The US must fight a war so that it has the confidence to fight wars. But why should it fight wars?
The War in Iraq is not an isolated event. The war of Iraq was the latest stage in the DESTRUCTION of Iraq by imperialism. This started by the CIA helping Saddam Hussein take power. It followed with the US helping both Iraq and Iran to destroy each other. It then continued with the trap of Kuwait and the first Gulf War (fought with Saudi money), followed by the genocidal sanctions regime. And then there was the second Iraq war and occupation.
Iraq has been systematically destroyed from the late fifties by US interventions, and the destruction of Iraq has been US policy for over 50 years now. Talking about the causes of the war on Iraq outside this long history is nonsense.
Now why was there a policy of destroying Iraq for over 50 years? The best hypothesis is that this was done to prevent competition with Saudi Arabia, and in particular to concentrate capital accumulation through oil in the friendly and retrograde regimes of the Gulf, primarily Saudi Arabia. That meant primarily preventing Iraq from producing oil, and then preventing it from profiting from oil. In relation to this policy, BP, shell and Total were not competing. There were all on the same side as they all benefitted from a friendly and US dominated regime of accumulation through oil that centered on Saudi Arabia.

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