Oil & war; 16 years since the 2003 anti-war protests

March 12, 2019
Cover photo by Safa Kadhim

On the 16th Feb, and to mark 16 years since the 2003 anti-war protests, BP or not BP?, and many others took over the British Museum; targetting specifically the BP-sponsored Assyria exhibition. This was part of a series of actions, that also included the action at the press launch of the exhibition in November. Iraqi members of the group also set up an alternative exhibition in Feb-March, with works of Iraqis in Iraq and in the diaspora exposing the realities of BP in Iraq. Here you can read why we protested on the 16th.

An overview of the takeover on the 16th can be found here and Culture Unstained also released a detailed report with FOIs from the British Museum on the recent I am Ashurbanipal exhibition.

Video of the action on the 16th February 2019

For far too long, corporations have profited from the exploitation, oppression and killing of people; whether it be for example, arms companies profiting from UK sales to Saddam in the 80s or oil companies like BP and Shell lobbying the government to go to war before the invasion in 2003. In the case of BP, the Chilcot report mentions them (BP) having done a technical review of the third largest oilfield in the world (Rumaila in Basra) months before the invasion. We wanted to showcase throughout our work that we cannot resist the arms trade without tackling the role of oil companies, and colonial institutions and nor could we speak of climate change without talking of colonial roots, exploitation of people, land and environment – but also the resistance that was being led by affected communities. In the same summer that the British Museum had announced the BP sponsored Assyria exhibition, people in Basra were protesting the dire state of water – which had left over 100 000 people hospitalised, and where BP is subcontracted the third largest oilfield in the world.

“Both the British Museum and BP should be ashamed of the Assyria exhibition and its sponsorship. We have not forgotten, nor forgiven, the role that BP played in 2002 by lobbying government officials for access to Iraq’s oil before the invasion.

This outrageous exhibition only makes us more adamant in our demands for accountability of those who played a role in the 2003 invasion, our fight for the decolonisation of our public institutions and our resistance to the exploitation of people, land and environment by big oil companies.”

Iraqi member from the organising group
Messages from the public to the British Musuem are scattered around the Foreign Office quote (2002), whilst protestors file out with of the museum with the 'living tapestry'.
Photo by Safa Kadhim.
Messages from the public to the British Museum are scattered around the Foreign Office quote (2002), whilst protesters file out with of the museum with the ‘living tapestry’.

For coverage of the action on the 16th and the alternative exhibition, below are a few links. Some are written before the action, some by members of the group, and some not:
Guardian, Independent, London Student, New Internationalist, New Statesman, Desmog, Art Forum, The Art Newspaper (protest), The Art Newspaper (exhibition), The Ecologist, Hyperallergic (protest), Hyperallergic (exhibition), A-n.co.uk, Al-Quds (arabic), Belfast Telegraph, Morning Star, Ekklesia, Sky news interview (on 16th morning of the action)

For more information about BP’s role in the lead up to the war, it’s history in the region, and its exploitation of people, land and environment (particularly where it operates in southern Iraq today), have a read of our briefing we put together with Platform – activism, education and the arts and Culture Unstained (part of Art Not Oil):


Here you’ll find photos from the action on the 16th, previous actions, and videos (like the one below) that we released in the run up to our huge takeover.

If BP’s advert told the truth – in the run up to the action on the 16th we released a spoof video exposing BP’s realities

The series of actions is a crucial reminder that our struggles are interconnected; that economic injustice, climate wreckage, colonialism, corruption and war can and will only be fought collectively.

Get involved; get in touch: BP or not BP? ; CAAT Universities


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