BP declined to comment on the report, but a spokesman for Shell said that the company had never had a meeting with any officials or ministers specifically about Iraq. ‘The subject has come up from time to time in routine meetings,’ the spokesman said. ‘The only statement we have made is that there should be a level playing field for any appropriate opportunities coming up.’ The spokesman said Shell believed that the future of the Iraqi oil industry should be a matter for the Iraqi people.

The Financial Times report said that Shell had discussed the issue in a wide-ranging meeting with Geoffrey Norris, a policy adviser to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. It reported a ‘senior Whitehall insider’ as saying that although the oil industry would be handed back to the Iraqis, the US and the UK were keen to use some of the proceeds to offset the costs of war.