Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Crude politics

Sami Ramadani reviews Fuel on the Fire: oil and politics in occupied Iraq, by Greg Muttitt

August 30, 2011
5 min read

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.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook