LONDON, April 19 Britain discussed plans to
exploit Iraq's oil reserves with some of the world's biggest oil
companies five months before it joined the United States in
invading the country, the Independent newspaper said on Tuesday.
Citing documents it said were obtained under a Freedom of
Information Act request by campaigner and author Greg Muttitt,
the newspaper said at least five meetings were held between
government officials and oil majors BP (BP.L) and Royal Dutch
Shell (RDSa.L) in October and November 2002.
"Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in (Iraq)
for the sake of their long-term future," Edward Chaplin, the
Foreign Office's former Middle East director was quoted as
saying after a meeting with oil groups in October 2002.
"We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK
companies in a post-Saddam Iraq," he said, according to minutes
of the meeting which could not be independently verified.
A month later, the Foreign Office invited BP again to
discuss opportunities in Iraq "post regime change", the
"BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political
deals should not deny them the opportunity," it quoted minutes
of the meeting as saying.
Former prime minister Tony Blair's decision to support the
2003 U.S.-led invasion was the most controversial of his 10-year
It led to internal divisions, huge protests at home and
accusations that he deceived Britons over his reasons for war
when weapons of mass destruction were not found.
BP told the Foreign Office that Iraq was "more important
than anything we've seen for a long time," the newspaper said.
Then trade minister Elizabeth Symons assured the oil group
that the government believed British energy firms should be
given a share of Iraq's oil and gas reserves, given Blair's
commitment to U.S. plans.
"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 U.S.
government throughout the crisis," the newspaper cited minutes
of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG Group BG.L as saying.
A spokeswoman at the Foreign Office had no immediate
comment. BP, Shell, and BG Group were not immediately reachable.
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Peter Graff)