Last updated: Sept 2006
Katy Brown looks at some of the companies profiting from the invasion of Iraq
For the first time since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the profits accrued by British business as a result of the occupation have been documented. Oxford-based research group Corporate Watch has recently released ‘Corporate Carve Up: the role of UK companies in Iraq since 2003’ which details the involvement of 89 of the British companies that have profited from the invasion to the tune of a total £1.1 billion.
This figure is almost certainly an underestimate. Many of the companies listed are private security and consultancy firms with unfamiliar names. This article focuses on the most well-known companies and is based on information contained within the Corporate Watch report.
It is now widely accepted that the invasion of Iraq was motivated by US desire to control the country’s oil fields. In fact, many big oil companies were given an unprecedented strategic role in planning the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Phillip Carroll, head of Fluor Corp, a major contractor hired by the US Department of Defence for Iraq reconstruction, drafted a Pentagon strategy for the development of the Iraqi oil industry in the autumn of 2002, while the UN inspectors were still in Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction.
Also prior to the invasion, BP tutored British troops in maintaining and running the oil fields which were later seized in southern Iraq. US giant Halliburton, which provides services to corporations for the exploration, development and production of oil and gas, was given the task of repairing and rebuilding the oil infrastructure, accompanying the troops into the oil fields in this capacity.
Other aspects of the ‘corporate invasion of Iraq’ have been given less attention; the speed and intensity with which western corporations were encouraged to enter the reconstruction economy has been largely ignored by the mass media.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) quickly delivered around $20 billion in Iraqi reconstruction funds (mainly money generated from Iraqi oil confiscated during the sanctions regime and from oil sold during the occupation) to corporations from the coalition states. It has been estimated that Iraqi companies received just 2 percent of the value of those contracts.
Also largely unreported is the open deployment of private military and private security companies (PMCs and PSCs) which has been on a scale unprecedented in recent history. It is estimated that 30,000 private military and armed security personnel are currently employed by Western PMCs in Iraq.
The UK’s Special Relationship?
The UK expected to reap huge rewards for its prominent role in the invasion of Iraq. However, to a large extent this has not happened. The ‘prime contractors’ which won the bids for reconstruction were all US firms.
Only one British company, AMEC, was able to benefit by forming a partnership with the American Fluor Corporation. Once the prime contracts were decided, companies were free to bid for sub-contracts from the major contractors. In a period studied between 2003 and 2004, more than 80% of the prime sub-contracts were given to US companies with the remainder given to UK, Australian, Italian, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi companies.
With UK companies pushed to the fringes of the reconstruction market they have adapted to supporting roles in the corporate invasion and in these areas have played an almost equal role to the US. British companies have been very prominent in the expanding market of PMCs; on average 30% of reconstruction contracts are spent on private security and armed escorts so this is a lucrative business.
UK companies have also been important in facilitating the penetration of Western capital into Iraq; British firms have been key in organising Iraqi ‘reconstruction’ meetings which have successfully accelerated the reconstruction process by providing an arena for businesses to discuss collaborations with Iraqi and coalition government officials.
UK companies have also provided the propaganda, intelligence, knowledge and communications systems to sustain the corporate invasion and enable a smooth transition to a free market economy, allowing western corporations to gain access to formerly nationalised markets.
Construction company AMEC holds some of the biggest USAID contracts. With US firm Fluor it has received $500m to construct, repair, operate and maintain power generation facilities. It has also received $500m and $600m from USAID for water resource projects in Northern and Southern Iraq, again in a joint contract with Fluor.
Amec is also a subcontractor on a $154m Fluor contract to restore electrical power systems and has received an unknown sum from a Centcom contract. According to Building Magazine, ‘Federal spending in Iraq has helped Amec make a positive start to 2005.’ www.amec.com
BBC World Service Trust
The BBC World Service Trust was given £6.7m by the Department for International Development to work on a project for ‘Re-establishment of radio and television broadcasting capacity in the four southern governorates.’ www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/trust/
BP received an estimated $5m from the Ministry of Oil, ‘To help conduct technical studies providing the ministry with advice, analysis and training for Rumaila field’. www.bp.com
The British Council received £3,131,151 from DfID for projects including ‘Education Team to Support Coalition Provisional Authority’; Iraq: Political Participation Fund; Iraq: Civil Society Fund. The British Council removed anti-war articles from its website in September 2005
HSBC has bought 70% of Iraq’s Dar es Salaam Investment Bank, which has assets of $91.1m. The HSBC share is therefore £36,881,225 of Iraqi investors ‘ money. HSBC’s profits from its Middle East business rose 25% in 2004.
Service company Serco received £5m a year (£7.5m in total) for an 18-month USAID contract for airport management. Serco is a major donor to Save the Children UK, which allegedly has muted criticisms of the Iraq war under pressure from Save the Children USA.1 www.serco.com
Shell received an unknown sum ‘To help conduct technical studies providing the ministry [of oil] with advice, analysis and training for Kirkuk field’. Shell is also working on the Gas Master Plan with the Ministry of Oil and with developing the Maysan field in the south. Shell had operations in Iraq from the 1920s, until its assets were nationalised in 1973. www.shell.com
Siemens received an unknown fee from USAID for work on the Daura power plant, ‘one of the most important electrical projects in the country’. The company pulled out in April 2004 but as of June 2005, Siemens was working in Iraq with Iraqi and non-Iraqi staff. www.siemens.com
Vodaphone provides a mobile phone network service based around Basra, a license granted by the Ministry of Defence, for security and reconstruction efforts. www.vodafone.co.uk
The following are the UK companies which have profited most so far from the occupation:
1. AMEC £500m
2. Aegis Defence Services £246.52m
3. Erinys (private security) £86m
4. Petrel Resources (Anglo-Irish) £56.6m
5. HSBC - £36.88m
6. Cummins UK (Power) £25.8m
7. PB Power - £24.88m
8. Control Risks (Private security) £23.5m
9. MerchantBridge (Financial) £22.07m
10. Global Strategies Group (private security) £15.48m
One could argue that these companies are helping the Iraqi people by rebuilding their infrastructure. This begs the question, however, that if the invasion of Iraq was intended to help its people, then why is it that Western and not Iraqi companies are profiting?
As yet it has not been decided which companies will win the jackpot prize of direct exploitation of Iraqi oil, but it is likely that two British companies, BP and Shell, will be heavily involved.
According to Dave Whyte, a criminology lecturer at the University of Stirling who worked on the Corporate Watch report ‘The transformation of the Iraqi economy has allowed British and American companies to plunder Iraq’s oil wealth, but this wasn’t just an act of plunder and theft, it was also a war crime - the transformation of the economy by the British and American governments is illegal under the Hague and Geneva conventions.’
Iraq is considered to be an oppressive regime by Ethical Consumer due to its poor track record on human rights. The invasion and occupation have not changed this despite claims by the US that its interference would bring democracy and western human rights ideals to the country.
ECRA criticises company involvement in any oppressive regime and urges consumers to consider avoiding products made by such companies. We would also urge investors to check companies against the list here before unknowingly investing their money in war-profiteers.
The full report costs £5 and can be downloaded from www.corporatewatch.org or ordered from:
Corporate Watch, 16b Cherwell Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX4 1BG. Corporate Watch can also be contacted on 01865 791 391 firstname.lastname@example.org
There are also organisations campaigning on the involvement of US companies in Iraq:
From Ethical Consumer, Issue 102, September/October 2006