Global Policy Forum

History of Oil in Iraq


Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, denied that oil interests influenced policy in Iraq, but the archives show that the British government rushed troops to Mosul in 1918 to gain control of the northern oil fields. Britain and France clashed over Iraq's oil during the Versailles Conference and after, but Britain eventually took the lion's share by turning its military victories into colonial rule. The powerful Iraq Petroleum Company, in which US and French firms held minority positions, acted always in the cartel interests of the Anglo-American companies. To the fury of the Iraqis and the French, it held down production to maximize profits elswhere. The company kept a monopoly of Iraq's oil sector until nationalization in 1972.


The Early Struggle Over Iraq's Oil


The Byzantine Beginnings: The Quest for Oil (April 25, 2003)

Since the discovery of oil in the Middle East in 1908, western powers have sought dominance over the region's resources. Dr. Ferruh Demirmen examines western influence in Iraq's oil industry, from the creation of the Turkish Petroleum Company in 1911 by the UK, the Netherlands and Germany to the entry of US oil giants after World War I. (Global Policy Forum)

The Byzantine Beginnings: The Reign of a Monopoly (April 26, 2003)

The Turkish Petroleum Company's (TPC) creation by the UK aimed at seeking concessions to explore for Iraqi oil, to eliminate rivalry among TPC's partners and to compete with US oil companies. This paper examines the history of Iraq's oil industry from World War I to 1972 and assesses the "winners and losers" of the Iraq oil game. (Global Policy Forum)

Great Power Conflict over Iraqi Oil: the World War I Era (October, 2002)

Western conflicts over Iraqi oil go back to the World War I era. This article by James A. Paul describes how major international powers combined military force, government pressure and the action by powerful companies to control Iraq's oil. (Global Policy Forum)

Intervention in Iraq, 1958-1959 (April 2008)

From 1958 to 1959, US preemptive intervention in Iraq seemed likely amid policy fears that it would become a "Soviet satellite." Parallel to 2003, the US in the 1950s suffered from national insecurity, conservative media propaganda and oil greed. President Eisenhower, however, knew enough "about the military, about occupations and about diplomacy" to understand the consequences of invading Iraq and therefore intervention was avoided. (Middle East Institute)

Britain Says US Planned to Seize Oil in '73 Crisis (January 6, 2004)

Declassified British documents indicate that the US government "was prepared to secure America's oil supply," should OPEC prolong the oil embargo. The Pentagon planned to seize oilfields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. The UK secret intelligence services considered use of force a serious contingency. (New York Times)

Iraq Oil and British Foreign Policy after World War I (1995)

In this excerpt from his book British Foreign Policy During the Curzon Period, 1919-1924, G. H. Bennett discusses the importance of oil in Britain's strategic thinking about Iraq, including the decision to violently repress the Iraqi Revolt of 1920.

Britain's Priority: Control of Oil Reserves

This selection from Helmut Mejcher's Imperial Quest for Oil: Iraq 1910-1928 describes how the British government sought to control Iraq's oil reserves as a supreme policy interest as it established colonial control over the country and drew Iraq's new boundaries.

The Primacy of Oil in Britain's Iraq Policy (1976)

This excerpt from Peter Sluglett's book Britain in Iraq shows how oil was the central issue of concern to British policy makers in the years after World War I. Sluglett quotes from a number of important documents and he shows that official denials about oil-driven policy were falsehoods to deceive foreign rivals as well as the British public.


Oil in Iraq: The Role of the International Oil Industry


An Interest in Oil (1988)

This excerpt from "America as Junior Partner: Anglo-American Relations in the Middle-East" by Barry Rubin, shows conflicts between the United States and Britain over control of Middle East oil during the interwar period (1918-1939). The conservative Rubin, today a Bush administrtion cheerleader, demonstrates that scholars of all political persuasions recognize the primacy of oil in Middle East history.

Oil Companies Hold Down Production in Iraq (1977)

John Blair, in this well-known study, shows how US and UK oil companies restricted production in their concessions in Iraq, in spite of repeated protests by their French partner and by the Iraqi government.

Oil: The Rewards of Power (1972)

Joyce and Gabriel Kolko describe in this excerpt from The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy 1945-1954, the United States' and Britain's struggle for Middle East oil during the post war period.


Nationalization in Iraq


The Oil Companies vs. Iraq: Leadup to Nationalization, 1958-1973

This text, from Joe Stork's classic study on Middle East oil, shows how the Anglo-American companies resisted change in the organization of Iraq's oil industry, ignoring pressure by the government to prospect more widely and pump more oil. After years of obstruction, Iraq finally nationalized its oil industry in June, 1972.




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