More on Heritage Oil

The Heritage Oil deal in Kurdistan which I mentioned last week has attracted a lot of interest in the blogosphere, notably from Middle East expert Juan Cole, who was surprised to see a Canadian company get in ahead of the Americans.

Heritage’s success is indeed ironic given what investigative journalist Duncan Campbell reported about the company’s founder Tony Buckingham a few years ago:

In March 1995, Buckingham traveled to Baghdad to attend a meeting with Safa Hadi Jawad, Iraq’s oil minister. The Iraqi government was seeking foreign partners to invest in its oil industry once sanctions were lifted. They were offering the inducement of stakes in some of the world’s biggest oil fields. Among the 200 oil executives who smelled fresh money in the Baghdad air, there was no one from the United States or the United Kingdom – except Tony Buckingham. On their journey across the lobby of the Al Rasheed Hotel, they tramped over a floor mosaic depicting a snarling, feral image of former President George Bush. Some stopped for photographs. (The Centre for Public Integrity)
Blogger Karl Marx was Right asks some interesting questions about Heritage’s Kurdish partner Eagle Group. There’s also been some focus on Heritage chairman Micael Gulbenkian, as a result of his family’s role in previous Iraqi oil carve-ups.
However, with the honourable exception of the Yorkshire Ranter, few have picked up on the real story, namely Buckingham and Heritage’s role in the rise of ‘Private Military Companies’ such as Executive Outcomes and Sandline International in Africa in the 1990s.

Here’s what Canadian journalist Madelaine Drohan had to say about Buckingham in her book Making a Killing:

Through my investigation, I learned that Tony Buckingham had been making a practice of introducing Executive Outcomes to weak and unstable governments in need of armed support. These governments often hired the mercenaries to retake prime resource areas in their countries — diamond mines in particular — from rebel forces. Once these areas were back in a government’s control, mineral concessions were awarded to multinational corporations. When it was revealed that some of these corporations were associated with Buckingham, he was accused of employing armed force to acquire mineral riches, much as the imperial chartered companies had done a century before. Buckingham never talked to the media, but his spokespersons insisted that there was no connection between the introductions Buckingham had made to the governments of Angola and Sierra Leone and the subsequent arrival of DiamondWorks in those countries. (Random House Canada)

It’s perhaps worth noting that Buckingham’s new partners in the Kurdistan Regional Government have very definite ambitions to retake prime resource areas.

Also worth considering is the fact that one of those introduced to the mercenary trade by Buckingham was former British officer Tim Spicer, who now heads up Aegis Defence Services, which holds one of the largest private security contracts in Iraq.

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