Magazine article The Spectator

Blood, Oil, Tears and Sweat

Magazine article The Spectator

Blood, Oil, Tears and Sweat

Article excerpt

A question for you. How much money do you think has been secured in contracts by British oil firms to rebuild and develop the Iraqi oil industry after the war is over? Here's a clue. It's a round number. A smallish round number. Yes, I know, that's giving it away. The answer, of course, is nothing; zero.

Meanwhile, how are the American oil companies doing? Actually, they're doing rather well. So far, contracts have been signed for well in excess of L1 billion, probably rather nearer L1.5 billion. I'm sorry I can't be more precise about the figures, but, hell, what's half a billion between friends?

That figure covers just preliminary work while the war is going on. The real goldmine lies in the rights to exploit Iraq's oil reserves once Saddam has been gently persuaded not to run for a ninth term in office, but instead to take a comfortable duplex retirement home in Ndjamena or Minsk. And the American companies are first in the queue for this bonanza, too. There are no British firms at all in the running at present.

I don't know how much Iraq's oil is worth in the long run. Nobody will even hazard a guess. Maybe I should just quote you the words of an industry analyst, when I asked him for the specifics.

`You're a journalist, aren't you?' he said. `So do what you usually do and make it up. Just choose a number. It'll still be a lot, lot less than the real amount.'

It may be that even now the disgust is rising in your throat at the direction this article seems to be taking. It certainly will be if, like me, you have the vestigial tail of infantile leftism wagging, every now and then, from your behind. The expensive rockets are flattening Baghdad, and presumably some of the people in it; captured American troops are being paraded on prime-time television. There is an awful lot of killing to be done before Iraq becomes, as they say, 'liberated'.

So it seems a bit venal to be carping over the fact that our oil companies look as though they're going to be missing out on the extremely lucrative spoils of this war, just as they missed out on the spoils of the last Gulf war, winning contracts in Kuwait worth another precise figure for you here - sod all.

But while faded pinkos like me wring their hands, our oil companies, pragmatic beasts that they are, have become enraged by what they see as official lassitude. They have been begging the government to make the appropriate representations to the US for months, and the British government has done, they argue, nothing.

Its main reason for doing nothing was that, in the words of one oil-company boss, to have started lobbying the Yanks for oil contracts would have meant conceding that war with Iraq was inevitable or likely. Which gives you an insight into the markedly different mindsets of the allied British and American governments. How long ago was it that war with Iraq was not inevitable? Last April?

Anyway, back in November last year, a number of oil-company people met government ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry and asked for help in persuading the Americans who would be on the ground in Iraq to consider British companies as potential tenders. In addition, the Foreign Office was told that the Americans had already set up a secret department to dole out the oil contracts. Our government, though, did nothing. Since then the oil companies have repeatedly requested help. …

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