Blair's thirty pieces of silver make Iraq 'apology' redundant

Blair's thirty pieces of silver make Iraq 'apology' redundant
Comment: The warmongering of the former British prime minister has allowed him to gain wealth and influence across the world, notes Nick Rodrigo.
6 min read
05 Nov, 2015
Blair's role in the Middle East extends beyond the invasion and occupation of Iraq [Getty]

The Greek tragedy which has been the crumbling of the Iraqi state since the Coalition of the Willing's hubristic 2003 invasion would cause even the most luridly Euripidean playwright to take pause.

The forced exodus and genocide of Iraq's minorities amid internecine conflict supports Zbigniew Brzezinksi's 2007 evaluation that the Iraq war was an "historic, strategic and moral calamity".

In a recent CNN interview, Tony Blair issued an "apology" for misleading the British public with his shoddily cobbled together "evidence" of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The former prime minister also acknowledged that the war had played a role in the rise of the pornographically violent Islamic State group.

The apology was received with scepticism by many, who were quick to point out that Blair's contrition was all part of a "tapestry of deceit" to hoodwink the public in the run up to the long-overdue publication of the Chilcot enquiry.

In the seven years since Blair left 10 Downing Street, he has has traversed the world, developing commercial and diplomatic ventures. Blair has charged hosts enormous fees for the pleasure of hearing him speak on issues ranging from interfaith dialogue to climate change; provided advice to JP Morgan and Zurich International and acted as consultant to a number of rather unscrupulous Middle Eastern and Central Asian despots.

Tony Blair Associates (TBA) is the body responsible for Blair's financial work and notes that operating costs in 2014 stood at £13.0 million, with cash reserves for expansion standing at £14.2 million. Blair's activities, alongside his property empire, have reportedly netted him £100 million.

The contacts he made as war-drum banging PM in the lead up to the 2003 invasion, as well as envoy for the Middle East quartet after 2007, have served to bolster his commercial deals, and in many instances, called into question the impartiality of his British taxpayer-funded role as peace envoy.

The Kuwaiti connection

"This is no time to wobble, George!" is a popular phrase in Kuwaiti schools, and is used to commemorate Margaret Thatcher's role in persuading Bush senior to intervene in Kuwait after Saddam Hussein invaded in 1990.

As British and US troops massed on the border of Iraq twelve years later, the Arab Times stated that Thatcher's "spirit of determination must infuse George Bush and Tony Blair over the coming weeks", with another Kuwaiti analyst stating: "Britain in particular has a long history of honourable intervention in this area".

     Blair's eventual role in invading Kuwait's long-time enemy made him extremely popular among the country's royal family

Blair's eventual role in invading Kuwait's long-time enemy made him extremely popular among the country's royal family. In 2009, Blair managed to secure a lucrative contract after visting the Kuwaiti emir as the Quartet representative.

Blair was reportedly paid for his role in advising Kuwait on their 2035 development plans to the tune of more than $42 million. The meaty sum is large, even for Gulf standards, and was exempt from local regulatory oversight, as it was understood to have been transferred through the emir's personal office.

Whether the emir's handsome fee was down to Blair's reputation as an economic adviser, or was a token of the royal family's appreciation for deposing Saddam Hussein is not clear.

What is clear is that the Kuwaitis were TBA's first major clients.

Oil strategy

A few hundred miles down the Gulf from Kuwait, in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, TBA forged a consultancy contract worth £1 million with sovereign wealth fund Mubadala.

Blair allegedly managed to secure this contract through meetings with Crown Prince Sheikh Abdullah Zayed al-Nahyan in his capacity as Quartet envoy. Yet Blair's connections with the UAE further jeopardises his role as peace envoy when his emirate-financed advisory position to the Serbian government is analysed.

The UAE has been accused of using investments in Serbia's arms trade to distribute weapons in the Middle East and act as a proxy for the United States and Israel. Of all of the sinister motives cited for Blair's decision to commit troops to Iraq, it has been the "war-for-oil" theory which he has attempted to debunk with most vigour.

Indeed, there is little evidence that Blair made any direct business gains from the opening of Iraqi extractive industries. However, oil giant UI Energy has expanded operations within Iraq, especially within the semi-autonomous Kurdish north.

Tony Blair, along with a number of US senators, enjoys a working financial relationship with the Korean energy consortium.

In the holy land

Part of Blair's role as Quartet peace envoy between 2007 and 2015 was to broker agreements and develop the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

His mandate was predicated on his knowledge as an international statesman, and the specifics of his orders were never made public. In 2009, Blair directed his energies towards lobbying the Israeli government to release broadcast frequencies, in order to allow Palestinian telecomms company Wataniya to finalise its launch throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Blair's website notes that the development of the company would "inject $700 million in investment, $354 million in fiscal revenue for the Palestinian Authority, and will create thousands of jobs".

However what the deal failed to note was that Wataniya was at least part owned by Qtel, a Qatari company (now trading as Ooredoo) which had reportedly acted as guarantor for a loan for Wataniya's project from JP Morgan.

In 2003, Blair reportedly lobbied then-Israeli PM Ariel Sharon to allow a consortium led by British Gas Group to develop a field 20 miles off Gaza's coast, in a deal reported to be worth more than $6 billion.

As Quartet envoy, Blair returned to this deal, framing it as a possible boost to the Palestinian economy. Israel blocked the deal, due to Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip, though it is doubtful that Blair's plans would have benefited the Palestinians, with the pipeline feeding directly to the Israeli port of Ashkelon, with only the Israelis as customers, free to dictate the price.

Again, however, it was Blair's role with JP Morgan which seemed to throw up more questions, as British Gas Group is one of JP Morgan's many clients.

     Since leaving office in 2007, Blair has utilised his prominent standing with Gulf states to build and expand his commercial interests

Since leaving office in 2007, Blair has utilised his prominent standing with Gulf states to build and expand his commercial interests.

The Nolan Principles, which govern the actions of public figures, do not apply to politicians once they have left office. But Robert Barrington, Transparency International UK’s executive director, told me that questions have been raised about whether prime ministers should feel themselves to be bound by such principles in later life.

"It is a poor outcome for democracy if individuals discredit their former office, or the country they have served, by their subsequent actions," he said.

Although Blair acknowledges the mistakes made in the lead-up to the Iraq war, he still trumpets the narrative that regime change in Iraq has made the region safer. No one knows how the Arab Spring protests would have impacted an Iraq under the control of Saddam Hussein.

However, one thing is certain, his ousting and death provided Blair with the means to make a financial killing.

Nick Rodrigo is a freelance researcher working for the Afro-Middle East Centre based in Johannesburg. He holds an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights from the University of Essex, and has previously worked with Iranian and Palestinian human rights organisations.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.