Daily Mail – April 19, 2011
Telling the truth? Tony Blair said oil conspiracies about the Iraq war were ‘absurd’ but leaked documents have revealed ministers met with BP and Shell about Iraqi oil before the invasion
Opponents of the Iraq war always insisted oil had a part to play in the 2003 invasion, whatever Western leaders claimed about their desire for regime change.
The theory that Iraq’s oil was of interest to the UK was even dismissed as ‘absurd’ by then prime minister Tony Blair as the British government prepared for the invasion while BP also insisted they had ‘no strategic interest’ in Iraq.
But the real link between oil firms and the Iraq war has now been confirmed after secret documents showed ministers met with senior oil bosses, months before the invasion.
In 2003, Shell said rumours that it had met with the government to discuss Iraq’s oil reserves were ‘highly inaccurate’ while then BP chief executive Lord Browne said: ‘It is not in my or BP’s opinion, a war about oil’.
Yet Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, met with officials from BP, Shell and BG (previously British Gas) on October 31 2002, some five months before the invasion of Iraq.
Documents obtained after a Freedom of Information request by oil campaigner Greg Muttitt reveal that Lady Symons pledged to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of BP to ensure the British firm was not ‘locked out’ of energy deals agreed by Washington.
A memo, published in part by the Independent, states that at the October 2002 meeting 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 Foreign Office held talks with BP a week later, with the meeting’s minutes saying: ‘Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.’
And while the company stressed just before the March 2003 invasion that it had ‘no strategic interest in Iraq’, BP had already told the UK government the Middle Eastern nation was ‘the most important thing we’ve seen in a long time’, adding it was prepared to take ‘big risks’ to secure access to Iraqi oil.
The real cause for war? Reports of 2002 meetings between the government and oil firms show the role oil played in the decision to invade
The revelations are likely to anger long-term opponents of the Iraq war, who have repeatedly claimed the invasion was driven by commercial, not diplomatic concerns.
The invasion was only approved in the Commons after claims Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, though a huge number of MPs voted against the motion and three – including former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook – resigned in protest.
It was later claimed that a 2003 briefing document used to justify the invasion had been ‘sexed up’, with an exaggeration about Hussein’s weaponry and the speed with which he could deploy.
Mr Muttitt, who appealed for the release of the documents 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.’