Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
In Fuel on the Fire, Greg Muttitt has meticulously and forensically examined official and oil industry documents to establish ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the Iraq war has the smell of crude oil emanating from many of its blood-soaked tentacles.
Greg and I have worked together in Naftana (Arabic for ‘our oil’), a committee to support the Iraqi oil workers union. And while others on the committee were much more absorbed in other ramifications of the occupation, Greg distinguished himself by pursuing the details of US-led plans to control Iraqi oil. The book is the product of that diligence, for which I think most Iraqis will give him a big thank you.
Significantly, the book has another important but understated merit. It highlights a key feature of the occupation: the deadly divide-and-rule tactics. With more than a million dead, and with the attempt to subdue the Iraqis devouring more lives and destroying more institutions, the war has become one of history’s major crimes. Central to this are the efforts to splinter Iraqi society along sectarian, ethnic and regional lines.
Greg has captured an aspect of Iraqi society that most mainstream writers and journalists have missed. Over many decades, most have fallen victim to the British colonialist dictum that the Iraqi people are deeply hostile to each other due to allegiance to their respective religion, sect, or ethnic group.
In reality, for most Iraqis their mosaic of backgrounds is a treasured asset, born of a long history of Mesopotamia as a land of riches and great civilisations that has experienced large-scale migrations, invasions and occupations.
Iraq has seen many rulers and ruling classes that resorted to ruthless methods of control, and its people came to realise through bitter experience that combating tyranny could only be effective through political unity. British colonial rule tried hard to destroy it, and despite backing modern sectarian political forces in Iraq it failed to drag most of the people into supporting these forces. Fuel on the Fire correctly observes that the US has also failed in this task.
In tapping into this Iraqi ‘psyche’, Greg Muttitt has identified and partly chronicled US tactics. The mantra of Shia against Sunni has been so persistent and beguiling it has not only dominated the mainstream discourse on Iraq but has crept into the work of many anti-war writers. It is so subliminal in its influence that even Greg occasionally slips into repeating sectarian myths, such as when he describes the nationalist resistance to the occupation as being ‘mostly Sunni’ and in blaming most of the sectarian killings on the Sadrists.
The reality is that most of the armed resistance to the occupation has been and still is in overwhelmingly Shia areas. This is rarely highlighted by the media, because it goes against the narrative that the occupation liberated the Shia from so-called Sunni control. Even BBC journalists have admitted that it was difficult for them to sleep at the British bases in the south due to the nightly shelling of the bases. The shelling was carried out by the Sadrists, and they are doing the same today against the US bases in the south, Baghdad and Diala. This is despite the ceasefire agreement, which in practice meant that the Sadrists appeased Grand Ayatollah Sistani by not publicly displaying their weapons. The fact that the resistance is more effective in some areas has more to do with their socio-political history and logistics than the degree of patriotism of the Shia or the Sunni.
In this respect, there is one salient fact that Greg does not highlight, even when citing the blowing up of the Shia sacred shrine in Samarra, a mostly Sunni city that has been the trusted custodian of the shrine for many centuries. Iraqis outside the ruling circles consistently blame the occupation for the sectarian killings. This ‘conspiracy theory’ is the anchor and main pillar of the Iraqi narrative about the occupation. For Iraqis it is ‘the Americans’ who had a hand in blowing up the shrine, and who turn a blind eye to al-Qaida style terrorism to ignite sectarian conflict.
Why would the US do that if the aim is to control Iraq and its oil? Faced with mounting resistance and to avoid a crushing defeat, the US generals and strategists had to resort to the murderous dirty tactics of the ‘Salvador Option’, ‘Operation Phoenix’, and the ‘Surge’.
One unfair criticism of the book is to ask it to delve into the other strategic reasons for the war, such as encircling Iran, becoming less dependent on Saudi oil, using Iraq as an important base in the Middle East within the context of protecting Israel, attacking Syria, and so on. Another is to accuse it of not analysing in depth Iraq’s complex socio‑political map, or the complex role of oil within the capitalist economy and the conflict between the big powers.
The book’s central aim is to dispel the Blair-Bush myth that control over oil had little to do with the Iraq war. In this, Greg has set the record straight, and has done so brilliantly.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe