SATURDAY OCTOBER 01, 2011
The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 remains the more controversial of the two major military operations launched during the "global war on terror" by the United States and its coalition partners, chiefly the United Kingdom. The alleged weaknesses of the casus belli as argued by the leaders of the US and UK has been a primary issue of contention for critics of the war, as have been the claims that were made to support it.
A common allegation leveled at the governments of the United States and Britain regarding the motive for invading Iraq has been the desire to control Iraq’s oil reserves, which are among the world’s most vast. Such notions were dismissed by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on British television in February 2003. "The oil conspiracy theory is honestly… absurd," he told Jeremy Paxman, a BBC journalist.
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also denied such claims. On November 15, 2002 on a radio program for the broadcast network "Infinity Radio," he dismissed the notion that oil was a motivation in discussions about possible military intervention to topple Saddam Hussein’s government, stating that plans for war had "literally nothing to do with oil."
However, citing key documents that challenge the official narrative, The International identifies where newly-released evidence contradicts the public statements of major political and business actors in post-invasion Iraq.
The politics of oil
Important examples of this are demonstrated by statements made by oil industry and government figures in documents obtained by the British author Greg Muttitt and reported on in his book "Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq." Muttitt, an oil expert who had been co-director of the charity Platform, accessed hundreds of internal documents about government discussions on Iraqi oil and other issues connected to the war through Freedom of Information requests.
One of the more significant discoveries was the apparently contrary public and private remarks of British minister of state for trade, Baroness Elizabeth Symons of Vernham Dean. The Baroness, a Labour party member, had publicly declared Iraqi oil to be "the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used for their benefit, and for their benefit alone" in a speech in Westminster in April 2003, while in private, some months before, had spoken to major UK oil companies about their gaining access to Iraqi resources.
She is recorded in the notes of a meeting with BP and Shell on October 31, 2002, as saying “it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq … if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the [war] crisis."
"In other words," an analysis released with the documents states, Baroness Symons appears to be implying that "if British forces fight in a war then British companies should get a share of the spoils."
If one is to accept this then the assertion that such a "view [as attributed to Symons] is clearly unethical, [and] is… arguably illegal, under the Fourth Hague Convention," bears consideration. The implications are very serious in terms of how they reflect on UK conduct in the build-up to and after the invasion of Iraq.
What is also particularly remarkable about the latter statement is its timing; it was made on October 31, 2002, while members of both the American and UK governments were reassuring the public that there were no plans to invade as yet, and some months before her later Parliamentary declaration on the sovereignty of Iraq’s resources, which was stated just after the launch of military operations.
Baroness Symons was, at the time, a member of the British-American Project (BAP). The group consists of 600 members, drawn equally from both countries, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, and holds an annual conference at which everything that is said is officially off-the-record. BP actively sponsors the British-American Project.
It should be noted that after leaving the government, Baroness Symons worked for UK investment bank MerchantBridge, "which has made millions from contracts in post-war Iraq," according to a report by the British newspaper The Daily Mail in March this year. In February, she announced that she was the chairperson of the Arab-British Chambers of Commerce; Baroness Symons has also worked for the Libyan government before the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, at a time when BP were negotiating with Libya’s former leader over rights to develop oil fields.
Baroness Symons remains a member of the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British Parliamentary system, which serves to scrutinize and amend proposed legislation from the the House of Commons. She was made a "life peer" in 1996 and thus has the right to retain her position permanently.
In another document obtained by Muttitt, the prevailing perception of Iraq by Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and major UK-based energy companies Shell and BP is discussed. “Iraq is the big oil prospect,” began the minutes of a meeting in November 2002. “BP are desperate to get in there.”
Both BP and Shell denied that any meetings have taken place. As reported by the BBC on March 12, 2003, "Shell said a report in the Financial Times newspaper – suggesting that both groups had held talks with Downing Street and Whitehall officials on the subject – was ‘highly inaccurate’. BP also insisted that any mention of opportunities in Iraq had taken place ‘en passant’ and that no specific talks had taken place."
Muttitt’s perhaps most powerful claims are that the new political structure of Iraq was organized in order to suit Anglo-American goals for the country, including having a share of the enormous oil wealth of the nation.
In an interview with The International he averred that "the US consistently backed the politicians that had a sectarian outlook…they want politicians in place that serve their interests…there were concrete decisions of the occupation on how they wanted to control the country, their decision on what type of country they wanted to run…the single most important factor in creating the sectarian killing was the sectarianization of politics which took place in July 2003 [the American-led formation of the Iraqi Governing Council] and was a deliberate decision by the US and by Britain that politics would not be carried out on the basis of ideology, principle, policy, ideas…[but] on the basis of which ethnicity you claim to represent. It was a divide and rule attempt to control the country."
In support of this claim, Muttitt referred to as-yet unpublished Pentagon memos that document "the attempt to control the country," and forwarded The International previously unpublished interviews with senior US figures involved in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) —an interim governing body introduced to keep order after the invasion— including L. Paul Bremer, its head and the US Administrator of Iraq, and J. Scott Carpenter, the Director of the "governance group" within the CPA.
In an interview taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority historian Gordon Rudd, Carpenter describes the establishment of an interim governing body of Iraqis just after a "clean slate" was created by Bremer’s "De-Ba’athification" orders that entered into force after May 2003 and effectively removed all public servants, politicians and army members linked to Saddam Hussein from positions of power. He stated, "At the very highest levels of the US government it was decided that we were moving too quickly [in trying to hand over power to Iraqis]… too precipitously. We didn’t know enough people inside the country… things needed to slow down. We were not ready to hand over the keys to a government [to the Iraqi people]… Tommy Franks working with [General Jay] Garner had… put these guys together. They were all exiles…All of whom ended up being on the Governing Council."
The group Carpenter is referring to was an initial bloc of seven political figures with ties to the US —Jalal Talabani, Ahmed Chalabi, Massoud Barzani, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, Adnan Pachachi, Iyad Allawi and Nasir Chadirji— and were expanded in to a group of twenty-five to form the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) on July 13, 2003.
Despite the formation of the group, Bremer retained the power of veto over the council’s proposals.
Two notable figures who developed leading political roles in Iraq came from this group of seven and had strong ties to US intelligence services. Ayad Allawi, an Iraqi exile from the early 1970s until the invasion, was described by the BBC as "well-connected in Washington and London…After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Mr Allawi co-founded the Iraqi National Accord (INA), which became known for… its close links with Western intelligence agencies." Allawi went on to become the Prime Minister of Iraq.
Ahmed Chalabi, who later became heavily involved in the De Ba’athification committee, had extensive ties to the United States. In the build-up to the war in Iraq, Chalabi provided a large portion of information that the US used to allege Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as well as ties to Al Qaeda.
Chalabi was supported in this by the lobbying firm BKSH & Associates. According to an article by MSNBC, "BKSH has long-standing ties to Chalabi that preceded the war. The firm was paid, initially, with funds from the Iraqi Liberation Act" [a bill passed under the Clinton administration in 1998 which defined US policy toward Saddam Hussein as desiring a regime change] and "was involved in promoting Chalabi’s cause as he pushed for the overthrow of Saddam."
The report also notes that "over the years, Chalabi’s group received tens of millions of dollars from the CIA and the State Department."
Announcing the formation of the IGC , the group was described by Bremer on Iraqi television on July 13, 2003 as representing "‘the diversity of Iraq." He added, "whether you are Shiite or Sunni, Arab or Kurd, Baghdadi or Basrawi, man or woman, you will see yourself represented in this council."
The group did roughly represent the ethnic make-up of Iraq, but, as is detailed further in Carpenter’s interview, strategic political considerations were fully involved in the selection process, as in the case of the picking of Songul Chapuk as a representative of the Turkoman population of the country. Carpenter explicitly stated that her incorporation into the council would help to "break the back of the ITF [Iraqi Turkoman Front]," a political group not seen favorably by the CPA, who were, according to Carpenter "a front for the Turkish government." He adds to his interviewer that "all this is highly…off the record book."
That she was not picked for her popularity among the Turkoman people appears to be well-demonstrated by reflections that Carpenter makes in his interview. He recalled, "We knew that she didn’t represent the Turkoman in a political sense but we didn’t think that that was all bad and we thought that the community would have to figure out a way to rally around Songul because whether they… whether they liked it or not, it was going to be their representative…there were howls from the Turkoman after she was selected but that was… that was how we came to select her."
Such accounts do not sit well with President Bush’s claim in 2006, during his state of the Union address, that “[the Coalition is] helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased.”
The Coalition Provisional Authority and elections
Although granted power of administrative rule by United Nations resolution 1483, the Coalition Provisional Authority appeared to be keen to ensure American political control over Iraq was not marginalized by giving in to the pressure from some within the United States and Iraqi camps that called for early elections.
The RAND corporation, a well-established US think-tank recorded memos exchanged between Scott Carpenter and Paul Bremer in its "history of the [CPA]" that reference concerns with delaying voting until after the constitution was permanently signed into effect.
The RAND text, authored by James Dobbin, reports the Carpenter-Bremer correspondence as follows, "When discussing plans for creating local governance structures Carpenter argued that it was ‘critical that no Elections take place in the interim period prior to the ratification of an institutional framework by the Iraqi people. Elections could create a legitimate counter authority to the CPA, making its ability to govern more difficult.’ Another memo warned that local Elections would ‘largely sacrifice Coalition control over the outcome.’"
This concern was echoed by Rumsfeld in another declassified memo dated May 13, 2003 entitled "Principles for Iraq," in which he wrote, "The Coalition will seek out and support Iraqis desiring to participate in their country’s future, to the extent they support the vision of a free Iraq. Those who do not will be opposed…Rushing elections could lead to tyranny of the majority…hands-on political reconstruction… consistently steer[ing] the process in ways that achieve stated U.S. objectives. The Coalition will not ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.’"
The connection between the CPA and Iraq’s political elite was on clear display as the leaders of the three most powerful parties in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in January 2005 were all former members of the Iraqi Governing Council, and all owed their political prominence largely to the Authority. The three were, namely, Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, Jalal Talabani and Iyad Allawi representing the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA], Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (DPAK) and Iraqi List parties respectively.
The parties that gained power in that election formed the Iraqi Transitional Government, a political body that was granted a mandate to draft the "Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period," abbreviated to TAL, a document that was a forerunner to Iraq’s permanent constitution.
Thereafter, the constitution was drafted later in 2005.
A hastily-drafted constitution
Muttitt notes the rushed schedule for the drafting of the constitution in his book, “The TAL had envisaged six months to draft the constitution…South Africa…took two years [to draft their constitution]…in more stable circumstances…Ukraine took four years. Afghanistan took fifteen months. But with two months of haggling over ministerial positions and policies, the Iraqi government was not formed until…April and the constitution drafting committee a month later…Further bargaining…brought Sunni members in…[the first committee meeting was on] 8 July. So it had five weeks.”
The constitution drafting committee chair, Humam Hamoudi, announced that he could not complete his task on time, so to expedite the process of completing the constitution, the leaders of the main political parties in Iraq discussed the contents of the text. Muttitt observes in his book that "In reality, only four leaders were invited [to take part in this]…Abdul Aziz al-Hakim…Ibrahim Ja’afari…Masoud Barzani…Jalal Talabani." Three of the members of the quartet were included in the group of seven selected by the CPA to form the embryonic Iraqi Governing Council in 2003. "Negotiations," Muttitt states, "took place in the private homes of Hakim, Barzani or Talabani, sometimes in the US Embassy."
An anonymous British official recalled to the author how the negotiating team "pasted in the provisions of the TAL" into negotiated drafts of the constitution.
On August 12, 2005, the US Embassy actually published its own draft of the constitution to share with the committee, including proposed alterations.
In a Washington Post article published on August 13, 2005, an Iraqi contributor to the official constitution drafting committee, Mahmoud Othman reflected on American involvement in the drafting process. “The Americans say that they didn’t intervene, but they intervened deep,” the Kurdish MP is quoted as saying. “They gave us a detailed proposal, almost a full version of a constitution” from which to work from.
Othman further stated that he thought the US “tried to compromise the different opinions of all the political blocs. The U.S. officials are more interested in the Iraqi constitution than the Iraqis themselves.”
Othman’s opinion, if true, would denote an American attempt to interfere with Iraqi democratic processes that arguably contravene any notions of the occupation acting merely as an "administrative" power, the role it was granted by UN resolution 1483 that sanctioned the authority of the CPA in 2003.
The constitution of Iraq, not unlike the constitution of the United States of America, is a primary text that dictates the rule of law and the role of the state above all others in Iraqi politics. Due to its enormous significance to the nature of Iraqi sovereignty and democratic functioning, the fact that key co-authors of the document had demonstrable ties to an occupying power raise profound questions of its legitimacy as an "Iraqi" document.
After a national referendum on the constitution had been held, a second round of parliamentary elections were held in order to elect the new government of Iraq.
The most powerful parties in the December elections were the UIA and DPAK, headed by the same leaders as in January, both of them former members of the IGC. UIA and DPAK received approximately 41% and 22% of the vote, nearly two thirds, between them. Both the UIA and DPAK were both largely sectarian parties: UIA representing the Shi’a majority, and DPAK the Kurds, predominantly concentrated in the Northern regions of the country.
Foreign Direct Investment and UK interests: compatible with Iraqi sovereignty?
Returning to oil, planning for Iraq after the January 2005 election, an internal government email entitled "Energy Strategy for Iraq" sent from an address whose contact details are "[redacted], Economic Section, Iraq Policy Unit" of the Foreign Office on September 9, 2004, seems to be outlining British intentions in terms of driving Iraqi oil policy in a direction that would compatible with UK interests. A document attached to the email called "Oil Policy.doc" explictly states that in order to meet British "[energy-related] objectives [regarding Iraq] the principal challenge for Iraq’s oil industry will be to institute the necessary structural, fiscal and regulatory reform needed to attract foreign direct investment (FDI)…Iraq is extremely important to the UK’s objectives on energy security."
The above quote is followed in the next sentence of the document by a remarkably candid account of how figures in the British government planned to help attract foreign investment in order to advance their agenda. The memo continues, "The idea that Iraq’s energy development needs are best served through FDI will be politically sensitive, both in Iraq- touching on issues of sovereignty- and internationally…We will wish to push the message on FDI to the Iraqis in private, but it will require careful handling to avoid the impression that we are trying to push the Iraqis down one particular path."
Reading the above, it is challenging not to get the impression that the authors of the oil policy wanted to "push" Iraqis in a direction that suited British interests.
In 2005, BP moved closer to obtaining an oil contract in the Rumaila oil field, Iraq’s biggest, by being rewarded a ‘study’ contract to explore the area. This was helped by the British Ambassador to Iraq, Edward Chaplin, having lobbied the Iraqi oil minister to achieve this. An email dated September 14, 2004, written by Chaplin to Tony Renton, a senior figure at BP, includes an account written by the ambassador of his doing so. Chaplin tells Renton that he had met Thamer Ghadban, a former member of the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council and "raised the Rumaila bid" with him. Renton responds in a later email by asking Sir Jeremy Greenstock to "nudge [BP’s] proposal with Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban and Mr. Alawi [sic]," adding that "we have offered to fund a very large proportion of the study that is likely to cost more than $10 million over the next few years."
Also in September 2004, Greenstock, who had previously held the roles of UK ambassador to the United Nations and UK’s Special Representative to Iraq and was a member of the CPA, lobbied Allawi on behalf of BP. In an internal BP email authored by someone whose signature read "Richard" (any email addresses were redacted) it was mentioned that Greenstock met Prime Minister Allawi with BP CEO John Browne and BP Middle East President Mike Daly. The author of the email observed that "BP wanted a ‘private’ meeting" between the four men, adding, "I believe that they pushed BP’s willingness to be involved in Iraq (which conflicts with Lord Browne’s public statements) in general and the study in Rumaila in particular."
The relationship between Greenstock, a former UK diplomat with influential connections garnered from his public service, and the Iraqi Prime Minister, largely empowered by a coalition authority that Greenstock was previously working with, suggests nepotism in that the BP lobbyist’s commission was to win lucrative oil contracts for the British oil company and his access to the prime minister stemmed from his previous associations with Allawi through the official work of the UK government.
Greenstock had started working for BP directly after having left his former post as UK ambassador to Iraq in 2004. He has never been asked about lobbying for BP, or the role of oil in Britain’s decision to invade in any government inquiry, despite having been questioned on other matters twice in the UK government-ordered Chilcot Inquiry.
In an email exchange between BP and the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) dated April 5, 2006, the Director of International Policy and Oil Energy Markets Unit at the DTI describes how Greenstock facilitated high-level contacts between BP and the UK government. He states, "Greenstock convened a small and flexible group of senior people" to discuss "long-term international energy strategy" with the DTI. The author of the email further advises that a senior company figure and member of the UK House of Lords, Baron John Browne, "would be available to brief the PM, if required, of course."
In an attachment sent by a UK government department with the first email from the exchange, a document transparently outlines British policy on a convergence of industry-government interests. The file, called "senior officials note on energy sector follow-up," states, "UK companies are engaging actively with the Iraqis. We need to support their activities as a matter of priority" and also that "Iraq needs to be factored into thinking…on long-term global energy security." It continues, "HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] needs to engage pro-actively on two tracks: with UK oil companies on support for their activities in Iraq, and with the Iraqi government on a range of strategic policy issues."
The emails appear to indicate that major British energy companies such as BP were supported by departments in the UK government that wanted to see British interests achieved in Iraq, and that the latter would "engage" with the Iraqi government to this end.
In the months prior to the Iraqi government’s final decision on awarding the Rumaila contract, BP had received a group of Iraqi visitors from the "Development and Training Directorate" of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil who received advice on how to meet their training needs. A letter written by BP to Iraq’s Ministry of Oil stated that BP would assist with "up to date relevant commercial and negotiating skills" and many other areas of training.
Later in the year, the Rumaila oil contract was eventually auctioned to BP at an ostensibly low rate of financial reward for the company, with BP signing a deal that yielded a remuneration of between $1.15 and $5.50 per barrel. The manner in which the oil contract was negotiated was lauded by the then Oil Minister Husain al-Shahristani, who, in December 2009 declared that he "[prides] [him]self that the deals in the first bid round and the second bid round have been more transparent than any other deals I am aware of in any of the other OPEC member countries. As a matter of fact, we have set the standard for transparency.”
However, the original contract was privately renegotiated with the Iraqi government by BP for months after the initial deal. The final contract, which was leaked to the charity Platform, has several key amendments to its predecessor.
Both the original contract and the second version were "service contracts’’ between BP and the Iraqis. A service contract is an agreement whereby the oil company is contracted to develop the oil resources of the contractor in return for a share of the profits.
The terms of the service contract agreed between the parties in this case protect BP from future changes in Iraqi law, guaranteeing profits for at least twenty years.
Furthermore, in the event that Iraqi oil production is restrained by a future OPEC quota, the Iraqi government would pay BP the same rate as it would otherwise, despite the decrease in commercially viable production. Under the former contract, the losses or costs involved with complying with any such quotas would have been borne in equal measure.
Parsing the consequences of these changes, Platform stated that the "effect of these changes is to transfer the most significant risks from BP… to the Iraqi government." Adding that, "As a result of the enhanced compensation provisions, the Iraqi government could find itself paying BP…. even when it is not earning oil revenues to offset those payments. Meanwhile, the changes undermine the Iraqi ability to ensure that it achieves value for money, and that oil is developed in the national interest."
New doubts about the transparency of the war aims for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are particularly significant given that President Bush stated at the outset of war that "we have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people."
Given that the United States not only appears to have been heavily involved in the introduction of highly influential political figures into the Iraqi political landscape, and, whilst acting as the occupying power, were apparently proposing alterations to the nation’s constitution, it is difficult not to question the image of America acting disinterestedly in the country. Such an impression is increased by the enormous amount of money spent on the war: an estimated four trillion dollars in total.
Equally, it appears that key players in the British government and the world of business certainly wanted to gain access to Iraq’s oil, and may have advanced their agenda directly or through the agency of political contacts with ties to the UK.
If an overriding coalition strategy in Iraq was to simply "restore control of [the] country to its own people," it appears that the process of doing so involved manoeuvres that were undemocratic, and, crucially, acted in such a way as to defy international conventions and the United Nations resolutions that had originally sanctioned the administrative role of the occupying powers.
The documents explored here only throw into relief some aspects of internal thinking during both wars and do not explain the "backstory" behind various memorandums and emails; as a result they do not constitute irrefutable evidence of intent on the part of the parties implicated by them. However, they help to inform the understanding of the public as to some of the thinking of major actors and raise urgent questions about coalition handling of the two wars that have not been fully addressed by governmental inquiries.
This Fall, it is expected that the Chilcot Inquiry will publish its investigation into Britain’s part in the Iraq war. The investigation has never questioned government figures on the role of oil in the invasion, nor has any US inquiry revisited the behavior and policy of the United States government in its announcement and execution of the period of the "global war on terror."
It is likely that, without a searching and impartial investigation into US and UK behavior in occupied Iraq, the impression that self-interested machinations by politicians and businessmen from the two countries will remain, fairly or unfairly, fuelled by the questions that are prompted by the discrepancies between public statements and the documentary record.
A way to counter such impressions is for key actors to increase transparency on the issues explored in this article, and elsewhere. This can be achieved by releasing relevant documents that establish a contrapuntal account of dealings with Iraqi politicians and resources. Such a move would help both to better inform the public about the events under scrutiny and potentially improve the public image of the institutions providing such a response.
As it stands, questions remain.