US and Britain wrangled over Iraq’s oil in aftermath of war, Chilcot shows
Terry Macalister, 7 July 2016, The Guardian
Iraq war inquiry finds Britain arguing for ‘level playing field’ for its companies in access to oilfields.
The US and British governments fought bitterly over control of Iraq’s oil following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Chilcot papers show. Tony Blair seemed more concerned than the Americans about any invasion being seen by critics as a war for oil, telling them it would be very damaging if the two countries were seen to “grab Iraq’s oil”.
But Sir David Manning, foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, told Condoleezza Rice, the US national security adviser, in Washington on 9 December 2002 that Britain still wanted more of the spoils.
“It would be inappropriate for HMG [Her Majesty’s government] to enter into discussions about any future carve-up of the Iraqi oil industry,” he said. “Nonetheless it is essential that our [British] companies are given access to a level playing field in this and other sectors.”
UK government officials called in a team from BP for a briefing about the prospects for the Iraq energy sector on 23 January 2003, two months before the invasion, which ended in May.
Later that year, the British oil company started a technical review of the Rumaila field, the second largest in the world. By 2009 BP had won a service contract to raise production on the field, which has 20bn barrels of recoverable oil.
Edward Chaplin, the British ambassador in occupied Iraq, talked of raising “BP and Shell’s interests” when he held discussions with Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, on 13 December 2004.
Blair had told the US president, George W Bush, at a meeting mid-invasion on 31 March 2003, that a clearer picture was needed of the shape of a post-Saddam Iraq to “sketch out a political and economic future and dispel the myth that we were out to grab Iraq’s oil”.
Yet a civil service briefing note in the same year for Geoff Hoon – then the UK defence secretary – before talks with his US counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses the need for “Level playing field: big contracts to rebuild Iraq. Putting UK lives on line. Expect level playing field for UK business in oil and other areas.”
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK ambassador to the United Nations, identified budgeting and oil as the two clearest examples of issues on which the UK was not consulted by the US-run coalition provisional authority put in to run Iraq.
“We did not see anything whatsoever in the oil sector; they [the CPA] kept that very closely American, because they wanted to run the oil sector,” he told the Chilcot inquiry, and was quoted in the final report.
Meanwhile, a note between two British civil servants on 6 September 2004, headed “Energy strategy for Iraq”, highlighted that the UK was to take advantage of Iraq, which has some of the world’s largest oil reserves. It said: “Iraq’s energy sector development to be complemented by the increasing involvement of UK firms, leading to sustained investment over the next five to 10 years and substantial business for the UK.”
BP declined to comment.