UPDATE 6/24: The Wall St. Journal has an interesting article on this.
Way back in November 2002, as the build up to the war in Iraq gathered pace, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared on the Arabic Service of Monte Carlo radio, in an address targeted at the Iraqi people. “The idea that this is about oil for us is absurd,” he said.
Step forward seven years later, and the British have now all but left Iraq with some troops left behind – guarding the oil industry – what else.
This week, Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor has been forced into a U-turn within days of announcing a public inquiry into the reasons behind going to war as to whether the inquiry will be held in public or not.
As the Inquiry was announced, the great cartoonist in the Times newspaper, Peter Brookes, drew an image of people walking into the inquiry building, where “White-Wash” was painted on the top. Whether the inquiry is in secret or public, one thing is certain an inquiry is unlikely to tell us whether Iraq was ever about oil. Some truths are just to hard to tell.
The war’s critics, if they pushed the oil argument, were often ridiculed. “If all we wanted was greater oil supplies we could probably do a deal with Iraq or any other country on that basis”, said Blair in his Monte Carlo address.
But seven years later that is exactly what is about to happen. As the Independent newspaper noted yesterday about Iraq “To public fury, the country is handing over control of its fields to foreign companies”.
According to the paper, “furious protests threaten to undermine the Iraqi government’s controversial plan to give international oil companies a stake in its giant oilfields in a desperate effort to raise declining oil production and revenues.”
Before the end of the month, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussain Shahristani, will award service contracts to the world’s largest oil companies to develop six of Iraq’s largest oil fields for over 25 years.
A rebellion is said to be growing against the deals, with senior figures publicly criticising it. Fayad al-Nema, the director of the South Oil Company, which comes under the Oil Ministry and produces most of Iraq’s crude: “The service contracts will put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years. They squander Iraq’s revenues.”
The Iraqi Parliament is also demanding that the process be delayed. Jabir Khalifa Kabir, the secretary of parliament’s oil and gas committee, says the contracts will “chain the government with complex contractual terms” .
However, the government says the contracts must go ahead. And, although the contracts are not particularly favourable to the international oil companies, once they have their toe in the door, they will look to extend their control and influence and gain access to the world’s largest untapped oil reserves.
So if you ask the man from Shell if this was a war about oil he will say “No” – but he might well have a huge grin on his face at the good times that finally lie ahead..