From war to warming: the shameful story of BP in Iraq

The British Museum’s current blockbuster exhibition, I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria, is sponsored by its regular partner, the oil giant BP. This is painfully ironic, given that many of the objects on display were originally looted by the British from modern-day Iraq, and BP was one of the biggest profiteers from the devastating US/UK invasion in 2003 that led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis losing their lives.

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Iraqis have held massive protests against the impacts of foreign oil companies

Military forces intervene during the Basra protests in 2018. Photo by Khalid Tawfik Hadi

“In Basra you see the wealth pouring out of the community every day – from oilfields over there, less than a kilometre from where we are sitting – and then you see the poverty and lack of employment in the villages, while companies import thousands of foreign workers.”

– Ali, who was involved in the mass protests in 2018

A young girl protests the poor conditions in Basra and carries a sign saying ‘Rights aren’t lost if there are those who demand them’.
Photo by Khalid Tawfik Hadi

Years of discontent escalated into massive protests in oil-rich Southern Iraq in the summer of 2018. The opening up of Iraq’s multi-billion dollar oil reserves to foreign oil companies like BP, Shell, Exxon, Eni and Petrobras to operate, was supposed to bring economic growth and prosperity to all Iraqis. Instead, they have seen little to no benefit; large profits are sucked out of the country and into the hands of foreign shareholders, costs are inflated and much of Iraq’s share is siphoned off by corrupt politicians and warring political factions. Continue reading

BP is extracting Iraq’s wealth with no benefit to ordinary Iraqis

Despite the pollution and searing heat of the flame, this flower decided to live and to resist the conditions. Taken in Iraq's oilfields by Malik Alawe

‘BP, ExxonMobil and others have systematically been grabbing control over the Iraqi oil industry ever since the US invasion… The people of Iraq gain very little from their own oil industry and in fact have to ask how does it benefit us at all? We get environmental problems, higher cancer rates, but the money doesn’t go to improving conditions for the people.”

Hassan Juma’a Awad, president of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions

By Iraqi artist Mariwan Jalal

The first oil contract following the Iraq war was dubiously allocated to BP and the Chinese National Petroleum Company. It was signed in 2009 to develop Southern Iraq’s super-giant Rumaila oilfield – the third largest in the world, representing nearly half of Iraq’s output. The companies were set to receive returns of up to $660 million per year for the next 20 years. Continue reading

BP is depleting and polluting Southern Iraq’s scarce water supplies

Sewage is dumped into one of the rivers extending to Shatt al-Arab in Basra, Iraq. Photo: Reuters

“In Basra, all the wars weren’t enough for us to die in them, it became outdated that we died by bullet or by car accident. Now, even the taps kill us, the very taps that are the sources of water to our houses.”

– Khalid Tawfiq Hadi


Southern Iraq is facing a water crisis. For many months, residents of Basra have turned on their taps to find cloudy, brownish-yellow salty water that is too dirty even to wash clothes in, let alone drink. Continue reading

BP is exacerbating climate change in Iraq

A field irrigation project in Muehlah, Iraq. Photo by Wendy Wyman, via Wikimedia Commons

“The smell is bad, the waste enormous, and the environmental impact appalling.”

– a World Bank employee on encountering gas flaring at BP’s Rumaila oilfield

BP’s long-term plans for its Iraqi oilfields directly contradict the urgent need to leave fossil fuels in the ground and transition rapidly to a zero carbon world. At the moment, BP only invests 3% of its operating capital in renewables. The rest goes into extracting oil and gas, searching for more, and building infrastructure that will lock the world into continued dependence on dirty energy. Continue reading

BP is whitewashing its activities in Iraq by sponsoring an exhibition of Iraqi culture in the British Museum

An Iraqi protester refuses to be silent, despite the best efforts of BP's "Head of Drilling & Spilling" in a performance by BP or not BP? at the press launch of the BP-sponsored Ashurbanipal exhibition in the British Museum. Photo by Kristian Buus

 “When I saw there would be a special exhibition on my culture and my history, I was ecstatic because for once, my culture’s beauty would be celebrated – but finding out the sponsor was BP was a massive slap in the face. These are the very same sponsors who advocated for the war which destroyed my homeland and slaughtered my people, all in the name of OIL. To BP and the British Museum, I say how DARE you use my culture and my history as an attempt to hide your colonialist skeletons!”

– Yasmin Younis

BP is an old hand at cultural diplomacy. For decades it has sponsored arts and culture as a way of securing its ‘social license to operate’. It enjoys a much-needed boost in legitimacy by associating itself with some of the UK’s most iconic institutions, such as the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Science Museum, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House. Continue reading

BP was complicit in the catastrophic 2003 war

Protester at the British Museum reminds us of BP's role in the decision to go to war. Photo Kristian Buus

‘Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there.’

– UK Foreign Office memo, 6 November 2002

Minutes of a meeting between BP and the UK Foreign Office reveal how, just a few months before the 2003 US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, BP was lobbying the British government to help the company access Iraq’s immense oil reserves. BP calls the reserves “Vitally important – more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time.”

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