Back in the heady, heated days before the invasion of Iraq, one of the quickest ways to be relegated to the margins of the debate was to claim that the financial interests of politically connected oil companies played any role in the considerations of the great statesmen of the West as they confronted the global menace of Saddam Hussein.
Anyone who suggested such a thing was immediately declared "unserious," a "knee-jerk radical," even -- gasp! -- "a conspiracy theorist." Later protests with their "No Blood for Oil" slogans were similarly dismissed. "Serious" policy analysts followed the lead of one of the prime movers of Western policy, the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, who declared, weeks before the invasion, that "the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it."
But this week, the Independent unearthed a remarkable cache of "smoking gun" documents that confirm, yet again, the collusion of political leaders and oil barons to divvy up Iraq's oil -- months before the invasion was launched. The documents -- minutes of meetings between British ministers and senior oil executives -- paint a bald, brazen picture of politicos and plutocrats jockeying to ensure that the oil barons get what one of Blair's own ministers called -- in the Capone-like patois that our great and good use when they think no one is listening -- "a fair slice of the action" when the invaders seize control of Iraq's oil.
Needless to say, these documents were withheld from the much-ballyhooed Chilcot Inquiry into the origins of the war. That toothless investigation served chiefly as a stage for bloodstained wretches -- like Blair himself -- to regurgitate their old self-justifying deceits; the oil angle received scant mention. Likewise, the oil companies themselves have always denied, vociferously, that they had ever talked with government ministers about grabbing Iraqi oil.
It would superfluous to point out that they were all lying. As the Independent reports:
"The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time ...
"Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq's enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair's military commitment to US plans for regime change.
"The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf because the oil giant feared it was being 'locked out' of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.
"Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: '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 invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq "post regime change". Its minutes state: 'Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.'
"After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office's Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: 'Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future... We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.'
"Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had 'no strategic interest' in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was 'more important than anything we've seen for a long time.' ... BP told the Government it was willing to take 'big risks' to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world."
Was the game worth the candle? Or rather, were the needless deaths of a million people slaughtered in the war and the bloody strife it spawned worth it? Well, for the oil companies, it certainly has been:
"The 20-year contracts signed in the wake of the invasion were the largest in the history of the oil industry. They covered half of Iraq's reserves -- 60 billion barrels of oil, bought up by companies such as BP and CNPC (China National Petroleum Company), whose joint consortium alone stands to make $403m ($658m) profit per year from the Rumaila field in southern Iraq.
"Last week, Iraq raised its oil output to the highest level for almost decade, 2.7 million barrels a day -- seen as especially important at the moment given the regional volatility and loss of Libyan output. Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington's main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil."
Come on: $658 million in pure gravy, year after year? What oil company wouldn't kill a million innocent people for that kind of juice? You owe it to your shareholders! And a great big reservoir of oil on tap to draw on while you are off upsetting apple carts (and oil rigs) in other parts of the region? What self-respecting Great Gamester could pass that up?
Of course, the invasion and rape of Iraq was not only about oil. It was also about war profiteering. And "projecting dominance" over world affairs. And the deliberate militarization of American society to facilitate authoritarian rule at home and endless war abroad. And the psychosexual anxieties of witless, pampered elites who crave a specious identification with "National Greatness" (expressed through vast arrays of military hardware employed to murderous effect against largely defenseless human beings) in order to fill the holes in their withered little souls.
But oil was always a prime factor in this poisonous mix. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the same kind of "conversations" revealed in the Independent are going on right now, hugger-mugger, between politically connected oil companies and the great statesmen of the West as they seek "a fair slice of the action" in Libya's oil fields.