The Guardian February 5, 2003


The Lion and the Eagle

Military Historian Colonel Bernd Fischer (Ret) looks at Britain's long-
standing pursuit of Iraqi oil.

Prime Minister Blair leaves no doubt that in case of a conjured war against 
Iraq, his country will participate, side-by-side with the transatlantic 
hegemonic power, and provide British naval, air and army units, including 
"special task" forces.

Apparently it makes no difference whether the action will be sanctioned by 
the United Nations Organisation or go ahead as a unilaterally determined 
war of aggression.

How does such an unequivocal policy stand up in the face of public opinion 
polls, showing that a clear majority of British voters oppose the war 
against Iraq?

Without exception, the media interpret Blair's "shoulder to shoulder" stand 
with Bush in terms of Britain's own oil interests in the Persian Gulf 
region.

This is probably the most important motive behind Britain's current policy. 
For nearly a century it explained Britain's dubious role in this part of 
the world.

A History of Greed and Intrigue

Already before World War I, in the days of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was a 
target for British expansionism, and that of other European powers, due to 
its central position across the land route from Egypt to India, and its 
rich oil deposits at Kirkuk and Mossul.

German and British monopoly capital turned Iraq's three Ottoman 
administrative regions  Baghdad, Basra, and Mossul  into some of the 
most important theatres of war in the Middle East.

Already in early December 1914, British and British-led Indian troops 
occupied Basra, the port city on the Shatt-el-Arab.

However, the British suffered a defeat at Kutt-el-Amara in April 1916, when 
they tried to advance on Mossul. It took till March 17, 1917, for the 
British to take Baghdad.

After the collapse of the German-Turkish front in Syria and Mesopotamia in 
October 1918, the British occupied the Mossul district at the insistence of 
the oil companies, contrary to the terms of the ceasefire which had been 
concluded on October 30, 1918, at Mudros.

Thus at the end of World War I the entire territory of Iraq was occupied by 
British troops. On April 15, 1920, at St Remo, the Allied Great Council 
awarded Great Britain the mandate over Iraq.

For decades British oil interests secured the lion's share of Iraqi oil 
concessions, although in 1920 American companies  Standard Oil of New 
Jersey and Socony-Vacuum Oil Company (Mobil)  were able to enforce 
participation with the support of President Wilson and the US Congress.

The Kingdom of Iraq, in 1921, was a British creation. Britain's first 
ambassador was also the regional head of Britain's state-owned British 
Petroleum (BP) since 1913, and the company initially provided Iraq with 
administrative personnel.

In 1925 the British Mandate Administration obtained, for its Turkish 
Petroleum Company (TPC), the oil drilling concession for the entire 
territory of Iraq, with the exception of Basra.

The British Government, which in conjunction with Royal Dutch Shell 
controlled almost half of all Iraqi oil production, also controlled the oil 
production in Qatar and in further territories along the Gulf (today the 
United Arab Emirates).

In 1929 the TPC became the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), with two 
subsidiaries, the Mossul Petroleum Company and Basra Petroleum Company. 
This completed the monopolisation process of Iraqi oil deposits.

Back to Colonialism?

Even between 1972 and 1975, when the Iraq Oil Company and some others were 
being nationalised, the British retained control over more than a third of 
Iraq's oil production.

Two of the notorious oil multinationals  British Petroleum and Shell  
until today remain predominantly British owned.

Their share of oil in the region makes an important contribution to 
Britain' s economy. Hence London has, since the 1990s, kept a permanent 
military presence  the so-called stand-by force  of at least 4000 men 
in the region, at the cost of several billion dollars to the British 
taxpayer.

Against this background it is noteworthy that Blair's political advisers 
from the Foreign Policy Centre* in London hold the view that the terrorist 
attacks on New York have demonstrated the need for a revival of 19th 
century colonialism. They expounded these ideas in a paper entitled 
Reordering the World. (See page 6 for more details.)

* * *
*The Centre was launched by Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in 1991. Excerpts from the communist monthly RotFuchs (Red Fox), November 2002, Berlin, translated by Vera Butler

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