Iraqis face the dire prospect of losing up to $200bn (£116bn) of the wealth of their country if an American-inspired plan to hand over development of its oil reserves to US and British multinationals comes into force next year. A report produced by American and British pressure groups warns Iraq will be caught in an "old colonial trap" if it allows foreign companies to take a share of its vast energy reserves. The report is certain to reawaken fears that the real purpose of the 2003 war on Iraq was to ensure its oil came under Western control.
The Iraqi government has announced plans to seek foreign investment to exploit its oil reserves after the general election, which will be held next month. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of proved oil reserves, the third largest in the world.
According to the report, from groups including War on Want and the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the new Iraqi constitution opened the way for greater foreign investment. Negotiations with oil companies are already under way ahead of next month's election and before legislation is passed, it said.
The groups said they had amassed details of high-level pressure from the US and UK governments on Iraq to look to foreign companies to rebuild its oil industry.
Earlier this year a BBC Newsnight report claimed to have uncovered documents showing the Bush administration made plans to secure Iraqi oil even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
Louise Richards, chief executive of War on Want, said: "People have increasingly come to realise the Iraq war was about oil, profits and plunder. Despite claims from politicians that this is a conspiracy theory, our report gives detailed evidence to show Iraq's oil profits are well within the sights of the oil multinationals."