Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The oilfields of Persia and Mesopotamia

I spent yesterday back at the National Archives in London, making the first investigations which may turn into a new book. By far the most interesting document I found was a memorandum written by British Naval Intelligence and entitled “The Oilfields of Persia and Mesopotamia”. It was circulated on 26 February 1919 (Ref: FO 608/97/15). Within weeks Britain and France were to agree an arrangement on how to share the oil reserves now under their control as a result of the First World War.

This memorandum was presumably timed to influence the British negotiators during their talks with their French counterparts but it seems to have had a longer-term influence. It argues that as oil reserves appeared to be diminishing, it was "essential" for Britain to control Iraq both for the oil fields there and because Iraq's rivers provided the most obvious route for the crude oil both from the Iraqi and Persian fields to the market. Here are some choice extracts:

“The security of this country and of the British Empire is dependent on oil for, setting apart the immense and growing demands for petrol, lubricants, and fuel for oil-engines, fuel oil is now essential to the maintenance of British sea power.”

“It seems clear ... that it is to the Persian and Mesopotamian fields that this country must look for its most important future source of supply.”

“... so far as is known, they are beyond comparison the most important oil lands either now in our possession, or which may come under our influence as a result of the Peace Settlement. It is therefore of the first importance both commercially as well as strategically that the whole development of these oil fields should now be brought under an exclusive British control.”

“Additional importance attaches to the latter country [Mesopotamia], owing to the fact that through it pass the natural communications with the most productive part of the Persian field.”

“Under a strong and stable government the means of communication would be kept open and improved, and the Mesopotamian portion of the field would be opened up.”

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