Contrary to official denials, British oil firms were jockeying for a share of Iraq's oil wealth the year before Britain took a leading role in the 2003 invasion, newly released documents reveal. Government ministers held at least five top-level meetings with execs from BP and Shell in late 2002, and agreed to ensure that the firms would get a share of Iraq's massive oil and gas reserves in deals that were reportedly already being quietly hammered out with American, French, and Russian energy firms with the help of US officials, according to documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained by the Independent.
BP—which issued a statement in March 2003 claiming it had "no strategic interest in Iraq"—was invited to discuss post-regime change opportunities with government ministers. The company told the government that Iraq "was more important than anything we've seen for a long time" and it was willing to take "big risks" to gain access to the country's oil reserves. Britain's trade minister "agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK was a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis," the minutes of one meeting state.