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Introduction

We are trapped. Our world is dependent upon oil for its very strength and breath. Without oil, the life we know would collapse. Where compulsive addiction meets utter dependence, the dynamics of supply and demand rule. Every day, our decisions ensure our sons and daughters will be as addicted as their mothers and fathers are to this flammable condition. This is no sudden predicament, but a hard-fought, century-long process to ensure that modern society would drink one fuel and one fuel only as its main source of energy-and that this thirst would be quenched despite all consequences: environmental, economic, military, or political. The dominant source for the crude we crave is the extended Middle East, a font still too incendiary to touch.

In the turbulent history of Mideast oil, one company and one secret pact stand above all others as the pivotal force that, by muscle and maneuver, delivered that region’s petroleum to the West. Despite, and by virtue of, bloody wars to claim, commercialize, and control that oil, the combustible flow rarely, if ever, stopped. That company, operating under many prior names, was British Petroleum, now BP. The secret monopoly British Petroleum engineered on behalf of itself, a consortium of other oil companies, and three Western governments was the Redline Agreement. The terms of this secret pact were defined by a simple red line carefully marked upon a map to demarcate the cartel’s oil kingdom. Once sketched, that thin red line created the most fabulous concession in the history of the world, worth billions of dollars, and worth the many earth-shattering wars, long lines of coffins, and gruesome coups its ink circumscribed.

Mideast oil and its incendiary petropolitics dictate much of our life and too much of our death. This book is not about a history or a future of oil spills or industrial accidents. Those chapters have yet to be written. This book is about a cataclysmic continuum that began more than a century ago, before commercial oil was a reality in the Mideast, before governments and gunpowder created much of the petroliferous world that we inherited. This octane world drives us to the tops of mountains, to the furthest depths of the Gulf of Mexico, and into the belly of the petropolitical beast, sacrificing any person, government, and society to obtain precious supplies of the fluid that powers our lives.

When you chase the winds of Mideast oil history, the view is often obstructed by sandstorms and mirages. To assemble this challenging story, I reached into my own research and textual sources assembled for my earlier book, Banking on Baghdad, plus subsequent works such as Internal Combustion, The Plan, and The Farhud. In doing so, I was able to carve out the reality of British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement. The actual agreement was maintained as a mythical secret until I obtained it and published it for the first time. Readers will see the actual agreement on the inside cover of this book.

My research team worked around the world accessing original documents and obscure materials in archives, repositories, and libraries in five nations. I also pored over the private files of British Petroleum, Turkish Petroleum, Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and Iraqi Petroleum, all organically connected entities. The resulting trove of documents yielded the dots that connected it all into a recognizable line. That line was red. BP cooperated in every aspect of my investigation, granting me unrestricted access to its sensitive archival papers. While space prevents listing the several dozen researchers and technicians who valiantly aided my work, I offer special kudos to Carol DiSalvo, Eve Jones, Nick Charles, Paul Dwyer, Elizabeth Black, Ben Ratner, and Eli Pridonoff.

I ask my readers to read the entire book without skipping around-or not read it at all. The red line of this saga encompasses an enormous continuity-one that has irrevocably shaped our life today and will do so for the foreseeable future. Only when we understand that unbroken continuity can we comprehend the many ways our world was sculpted by the company that became British Petroleum and the secret pact known as the Redline Agreement.