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Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq Hardcover – July 3, 2012
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Naomi Kline calls this book the "secret history"of Iraq. In much the same way, this excellent history of the Iraq Occupation and the subsequent role of oil and politics in post-invasion Iraq is a secret history, disclosing facts not revealed by the news agencies (in the United States, at least) and not generally known by the public at large. Not that the public did not suspect that there were ulterior motives to the Iraq invasion. Oil, and the acquisition of oil, has long been suspected at the real reason Iraq was occupied. This book confirms this suspicion. But with a difference: the author provides the reader with facts little reported to American media thanks to military censorship.
The public at large is hardly at fault for not knowing the full story. Since the Invasion began it was covered by "embedded" journalists, giving sanitized, censored reports of the carnage as if it they were providing the narration to a video game. Any accurate reporting was stopped by the military; the journalists from CNN or Fox should have been receiving their paychecks from the US military. Any meaningful reporting, which was not a pretty sight, had to be obtained from Al-Jazeera or foreign newspapers or news magazines.
There were reports, of course, of high-level visits to Iraq from Presidents of Cabinet members and politicians. The news agencies would not give the reasons for these visits other than showing, for example, President Bush smiling, handing out turkey dinners to the troops for Thanksgiving. This book, thankfully, actually describes the reasons for these visits, who was visited, what was said.
The narrative is replete with facts supporting the entire, brutal, story of the Invasion. The author is meticulous about providing a complete, detached narrative of the scramble of the oil companies to acquire concessions and agreements for rights to Iraq's oil. Significantly, he is far more generous than one may suspect on the motivations for the invasion. Early on, he discounts that oil was the sole reason for invading the country. Since the oil nationalizations which Hussain introduced in 1975 were not in effect, and in light of the chaos which ensued after the invasion, the author quite reasonably notes that the oil cartels would have a naturally interest in allowing the oil to flow once again. The author also relates, again in meticulous detail, how the cartels attempted to create a veneer of legality in the negotiations for the oil rights.
The book provides a fascinating look into the world of international oil, both in its business and legal aspects. This book provides in painstaking detail to destroy a country and culture, install a puppet leadership, divide the population into factions, and attempt to institute the invading county's agenda. The US media covered many stories about bombing, carnage and destruction, but precious little about the actions to take over Iraq's oil industry. This book provides page-turning details about the behind the scenes actions. A part of that veneer of legitimacy was for the Occupation Forces to push the Oil Law through the Parliament they helped create. A particularly compelling portion of the book relates not only to the failures of the Occupation Forces in winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people (some of those failures are downright laughable if it weren't true), but relates how the proposed the Oil Law was never enacted and enforceable.
How ironic it is that after all those lives and monies lost and after all the suffering needlessly inflicted in the invasion of Iraq, the Western Powers still do not have to this day the thing they had most sought after and which constituted the driving motivation of all the invasion, solid oil legislation to the oil companies' satisfaction. As the author relates, the enforceability of the contacts made after the troops withdrew is doubtful. This book is most of all a testament to the indomitable will of the Iraqi people. It is highly recommended and fills a painful need for an unvarnished history of the Iraq invasion.
Greg Muttitt has done a stellar job of accumulating, organizing, and presenting and incredible amount of information. Aside from numerous instances of using various freedom of information laws, Muttitt has multiple personal interviews with the central figures Iraq oil politics, and writes firsthand accounts of several meetings about Iraq oil policy that he was invited to by virtue of his position as an international oil expert and activist.
In short, it is all the information you wished you had time to research for yourself, and a whole lot more, written in clear and engaging prose.
The book posits three main theses: the US-UK invasion was motivated primarily by oil; the Iraqi labor movement was instrumental in hindering key US objectives (in particular an oil law to allow foreign oil corporations to easily acquire contracts for Iraqi oil and gas) from being realized; and the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq was caused in large part by the attitudes and policy decisions of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Muttitt's understanding of the first point is necessarily nuanced. Few auctioned oil fields have gone to American firms, though most of the service contracting has. (NY Times, 6/16/2011) Thus the war cannot be said to simply be about stealing Iraq's oil. More crucially than adding to the reserves of US multinationals is reducing the price of oil and weakening OPEC. Iraq's oil reserves are large enough to affect the price of world oil, and handing them over to private foreign companies allows production to occur without the blessing of OPEC. Of course Iraq could sign contracts demanding that oil companies adhere to production quotas set by OPEC, but the Iraqi government and oil ministry was under great pressure from the US to give generous terms to oil companies and drew up the contracts in secrecy.
Where Muttitt's argument is weakest is not entirely his own fault; many of the documents needed to conclusively determine the causes of the war are still classified (such as those from Vice President Cheney's energy task force). Instead he provides a substantial amount of suggestive quotes and documents from governments and oil companies as well as a rundown of US behavior during the occupation (such as in pushing the oil law). With those caveats in mind, Muttitt makes a strong case.
He also makes a forceful argument for the benefits wrought by Iraqi labor unions, one the of the few functioning civil society organizations in Iraq throughout the occupation. Despite the Bush administration's alleged concern with democracy, Paul Bremer, administrator of Iraq from 2003 to 2005, maintained a Saddam-era law outlawing public sector labor unions, and furthermore banned workers from electing their own managers. Successive Iraqi governments have further clamped down on unions, yet their influence was strong enough to block an oil law from being passed, which would have allowed oil contracts to be made solely by the executive branch rather than the current Parliamentary approval now required.
Finally, Muttitt demonstrates that most Iraqis do not see themselves in sectarian terms (apart from the Kurds); rather than a Shia or a Sunni, they are Muslim; rather than Turkoman or Arab, they are Iraqi. Yet Bremer's appointed Iraqi Governing Council emphasized the ethnic and religious makeup of the group. The message was clear: identity politics would trump policy and ideology. The US preferred an Iraq divided along sectarian lines (though Muttitt is careful not to make this out to be a conspiracy) as a united Iraq could more easily oust the occupiers, since that was the will of the vast majority of the population.
Like many books on post-invasion Iraq, Fuel on the Fire is a grim tale of the suffering of Iraqis under occupation. However, hope still remains, in particular with the labor movement and the rest of civil society; the country is still without the much sought after oil law. For those wishing to understand the invasion and subsequent occupation, this is required reading.