Bits of Cheese in Oil

by Alexandros Pagidas

Dissident Voice

May 14, 2003



Manuel Zani, Italian, aged 22


Mr Blair, I think the purpose of this war is to get control over Iraqi oil. If you don't agree, please provide us with the evidence.


Prime Minister Tony Blair


Let me provide you with two bits of evidence or argument here. The first is, let me say, for the UK, we're an exporter of oil. So, we don't need Iraqi's oil. We export oil. (MTV Interview, 6th of March 2003, http://www.labour.org.uk/tbmtv/)



First Bit of Evidence


Premise: Britain is an exporter of oil.

Conclusion: Britain doesn’t need Iraqi oil.


Let us compare a bit,


Bit of Cheese Argument:


France is an exporter of cheese.

France doesn’t need Greek cheese.


Now there seems to be something wrong with Mr. Blair’s bit.


Simply because you’re an exporter of a product, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need it from another country. The reason being that French Roquefort cheese is different from Greek Feta cheese.


So the crucial question to ask is this:


How is Iraqi oil different from the British, and how true can it be that Britain does not need it?


1. The Future


Iraq has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. Britain’s oil will end sooner than Iraq’s, or become too expensive to extract. Therefore, Britain will cease being an exporter of oil and consequently need oil from countries like Iraq that would still have it.


2. Less Costs, More Profit


Many multinationals can make the same products in their own country. Many American corporations can make exactly the same products if they based their factories in the United States – why have most of them left?


Cheap labour, less environmental restrictions, less taxes, less laws.


They didn’t need to ‘export’ their factories to other countries; but it was less costly and more profitable to do so.


British and American oil companies have their own oil sources, either in or out of their country; why shouldn’t they increase their profits (and their competitive advantage over other companies) by being the first companies to profit from the oil wealth of Iraq? Why shouldn’t (exclusively) British and American corporations profit from the multi-billion reconstruction projects that are needed to rebuild Iraq?


They don’t need to – nor do the rich ‘need’ to get any richer – but they will.


3. Power Politics


The economies of the world, to a large extent rely on oil. It is what drives our factories, our cars, our power plants. Fortunately this is beginning to change, mainly because of its detrimental effects on the environment. However, oil is still a very valuable resource. Controlling oil gives you not only the necessary component to run your oil-dependent economy, but also the ability to control the economies of others that are in need of it.


The point is not whether a country has some oil, but how much. Its power will be proportional to the amounts of oil it can control. As its oil resources decrease, so will its dependence on foreign states with oil increase. Its economy will depend on a country other than itself. For countries like Britain and the United States, this is anathema.


Preliminary Conclusion


The first point pretty much proves that it is not necessarily the case that Britain does not need Iraqi oil. Britain uses and will use oil for the next decades, to say the least. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, will still have oil when Britain’s own resources will be scarce or too expensive to extract. This is one of the reasons why predominantly US but also British policy, focuses on these countries, and is willing to support dictatorial or appalling regimes (like their support to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party, the Shah of Iran, and that other violator of human rights, the Saud Monarchy in Saudi Arabia [1]) provided they behave according to US or British interests.


The second point shows that it is a bit irrelevant whether you need oil. The point is whether British (and American) corporations can profit from the situation and establish themselves in Iraq as the primary competitors in the oil & reconstruction markets.


The third point is connected with the second, and makes the connection with politics and power. More oil under your control means less dependence on

foreign states and more political and economic power.


I’m not saying that this war was exclusively for oil. However, it would require more than just the fact that Britain exports oil to convince anyone acquainted with the history of US & British policy in the region, that this war had nothing to do with oil.


Second Bit of Evidence


Prime Minister Tony Blair (continuation from the MTV Interview cited earlier)


Secondly, there is a very simple way of dealing with this issue because whatever happens - what happens in a situation like this, there is always a conspiracy theory. It's not to do with the reasons they say: it's some terrible conspiracy machination, we want to seize the Iraqi oil.


A simple way out of this: we should make sure, if there is a conflict, in any post-conflict Iraq there is a proper UN mandate for Iraq and that oil goes into a trust fund and we don't touch it, the Americans don't touch it without UN authority. Now, we can't say fairer than that. And the idea that this is about oil, I understand why people think it because they're told it the whole time. We may be right, we may be wrong, but it's nothing to do with oil - not for us, not for the UK, not for the US - and the best way of testing that is let the thing be done under a proper UN mandate so no one touches the Iraqi oil except where it's needed for the Iraqi people because it's their oil, not ours. (Ibid.)


So the second bit of evidence is that “in any post-conflict Iraq there is a proper UN mandate for Iraq and that oil goes into a trust fund and we don't touch it, the Americans don't touch it without UN authority”.


Unfortunately, recent history shows that British and US governments speak of evidence, but have a hard time presenting any. They still haven’t found any evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which served as the basic reason for this war in the first place. To make the matters even more awkward, they have rejected the help of the credible team of the UN inspectors led by Dr. Blix. [2] I think that the common sense point of view is that when you really want to find something, and a credible team of experts wants to help in the quest, you accept rather than reject their help. This rejection does nothing but create suspicion.


In a recent article in the Guardian one can read the following:


America and Britain yesterday laid out their blueprint for post-war Iraq in a draft resolution to the United Nations security council, naming themselves as "occupying powers" and giving them control of the country's oil revenues.


The proposal, which would relegate the UN to an advisory role, alongside the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, while lifting economic sanctions, was expected to pass despite serious concerns from some permanent members. [3]


Later in the same article we find a comment on the European Union’s commissioner for aid and development, Poul Nielson:


[...] Poul Nielson, who accused America of seeking to seize control of Iraq's vast oil wealth,  [...] just returned from a three-day fact-finding mission to Iraq [and] said the US was "on its way to becoming a member of Opec", the Middle Eastern oil cartel.


"They will appropriate the oil," he told the Danish public service DR radio station. "It is very difficult to see how this would make sense in any other way.


"The unwillingness to give the UN a genuine, legal well-defined role, also in the broader context of rebuilding Iraq after Saddam ... speaks a language that is quite clear."


Overall Conclusion


Now these news seem to contradict Mr. Blair’s second bit of evidence.


These news do not speak in favour of a “trust fund” that the British or the Americans “don't touch...without UN authority”. The role of the UN is limited “to an advisory capacity on a board that will monitor the spending of Iraq's oil revenue on reconstruction” [4] while “control of oil revenues would pass to the "Iraqi Assistance Fund" to be held by the Central Bank of Iraq, managed by US and UK officials.” [5] Which basically reverses what Mr. Blair said in the MTV interview. The oil revenues will go to a trust fund that the UN “can’t touch” without approval from the US and UK authorities. No wonder the International Development Secretary Clare Short resigned over this issue. In her resignation letter she writes:


I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached. The security council resolution that you and Jack have so secretly negotiated contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. [6]


The most that the UN can do, is be in the  “advisory board with [...] envoys from other international financial institutions [that] would oversee the disbursement of the revenues, and make recommendations” [7]


Once the resolution is signed, the effects of the resolution will be almost irreversible; UN’s role in post-Saddam Iraq will be marginal – not vital.


In an unfortunate but possible scenario, Britain and the US might decide to occupy Iraq for more time than the Iraqi people can tolerate. If a new resolution is put to vote that demands that Britain and the US give back Iraq to the Iraqi people, it can be effectively vetoed by Britain or the US.


This won’t only lead to continuous civil unrest, but will be yet another blow to the UN and a further isolation of the US and Britain – not to mention the insurgence of additional terrorist activity.




The impression that Iraq is becoming a carpetbaggers' free-for-all was reinforced at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Centre in Atlanta this week when lawyers, consultants and business people streamed in, all hoping for a piece of the action. They heard a presentation by the US Agency for International Development (USAid), which is handing out contracts worth $1.5bn (£0.9bn) to rebuild the healthcare system. The USAid contracts total about $70m. If America fulfils its sweeping promise to rebuild Iraq's entire infrastructure, the total may reach several hundred billion dollars. The contracts will be paid for from Iraqi oil revenues, controlled by America and Britain and audited by an international firm of accountants. [8]


Which connects with our second point on the commentary of the first ‘bit’ of evidence. Instead of an international bid monitored by the UN, exclusively American (and any British) companies will make billions of dollars by rebuilding Iraq with Iraqi oil money [9] managed not by the Iraqis nor the UN, but by the “Iraqi Assistance Fund” managed by “US and UK officials”. This must be what they call ‘free market’ under ‘democracy’.


As far as Mr. Blair’s bits of evidence are concerned, they seem unfortunately as drenched in oil as my Greek Feta cheese in my native Greek salad.


The only difference being crudeness and quality.


Alexandros Pagidas is currently doing his MA in Philosophy at the University of Reading, UK, and can be reached at: alexandros@mailbox.gr.


* See also Alexandros Pagidas, “The Blair Witch Project”:





(1) For its human rights violations see: http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/saudi/briefing/9.html


(2) See David Usborne in New York, “US Blocks Return of UN Arms Inspectors,” May 11 2003, The Independent: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=405122


(3) Gary Younge in New York and Ian Black in Brussels, “Blueprint Gives Coalition Control Of Oil,” May 10 2003, The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,952927,00.html


[4] David Usborne in New York, Rupert Cornwell in Washington and Phil Reeves in Baghdad, “Iraq Inc: A joint venture built on broken promises,” 10 May 2003, The Independent: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=404877   


[5] Ibid.


[6] The Guardian, May 12 2003: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,9061,954287,00.html   


[7] In “Iraq Inc: A joint venture built on broken promises.”


[8] Ibid.


[9] Due to the sanctions imposed on Iraq, a large amount of Iraqi oil money went to the UN Oil-for-food program which exchanged oil for food and medicine. However, in an article by Evelyn Leopold we find that “The new proposed U.S. resolution, according to diplomats and administration officials, would legally end and phase out the complicated multibillion oil-for-food program, which is akin to dissolving a small corporation.” (U.S. promises action on Iraq sanctions, May 8th 2003, Yahoo News, Reuters, http://uk.news.yahoo.com/030508/80/dzhpj.html). Which raises some concerns when we remember an article dated March 10th 2003 by Seiji Yamada and Tai Ho-Chen who warn that “Over 60% of the population is dependent on the Oil for Food Program, run by the Government of Iraq.” (http://uk.news.yahoo.com/030508/80/dzhpj.html).  Does this resolution propose to “legally end and phase out” the 60% of the population that depends on it? Are there counter-measures in the resolution that ensure the well-being of this 60%? I hope the humanitarian agencies cry out this vital question.




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