Photo credit: US Army
The notion that the Iraq war was really about oil is far beyond speculation -- it floats somewhere in that ambiguous realm between generally accepted and assumed-to-be-fact. So the breaking news that a newly exposed secret memo reveals that national governments actually negotiated with oil companies before invading Iraq should surprise a total of about six people worldwide. It should, however, infuriate many more than that -- the internal papers, which document the British government's role in the pre-invasion negotiations, reveal a startling portrait of the Bush administration awarding oil contracts to companies in cooperative foreign governments. And it reveals those companies and governments actively vying for a cut of the loot. Let me note upfront that this is absolutely disgusting stuff. The memo should clue us all in to just how disturbingly ordinary the process of divvying up a sovereign nation's oil stores is to the parties involved. The Independent reports:
Plans to exploit Iraq's oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world's largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show ... 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.Fair enough, right? Lend public and military support to a war justified on (at best) dubious grounds, and you get a sweet slice of the oily pie. And they did!
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 documents reveal that "at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002." And after the invasion, 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."
This disturbing collection of anecdotes does a fine job of illustrating (yet again) how inextricably and slavishly tethered to oil world governments are, and how pernicious that reliance is to global geopolitical affairs. It's a reminder that the stuff that generates the majority of the energy in our economy pollutes not only our skies but the political process -- and that the companies that sell it are as powerful as some of the world's leading politicians. Maybe this is all ho-hum stuff, but these notions have become so commonplace that we tend to ignore them -- sometimes we need cold, hard reminders that yes, this is actually how the world works.
As climate action and clean energy supporters work to break our addiction to oil, these are the kinds of things we have to keep in mind -- we're up against not just the richest, but the most powerful forces in the world. And it's going to be one hell of a fight before we're somewhere close to evening the score.
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More on Oil Dependence
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