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Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

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Oil lies at the heart of Iraqi politics. Yet in the eight years since the bombs began to fall on Baghdad it has been a taboo subject. In Greg Muttitt's gripping and far-reaching investigation we are taken behind the scenes of the occupation to answer one of the war's most pressing questions: what is happening to Iraq's oil? In public the USA and Britain strenuously deny any Oil lies at the heart of Iraqi politics. Yet in the eight years since the bombs began to fall on Baghdad it has been a taboo subject. In Greg Muttitt's gripping and far-reaching investigation we are taken behind the scenes of the occupation to answer one of the war's most pressing questions: what is happening to Iraq's oil? In public the USA and Britain strenuously deny any self-interest. In private, however, they tell a different story. Drawing on hundreds of unreleased government documents and extensive interviews with senior American, British and Iraqi officials and oilmen, Fuel on the Fire reveals how the occupying powers have sought to return Iraq's oil industry to multinational companies - for the first time since it was nationalised in the early 1970s. But America and Britain failed to take into account the determination of the Iraqis themselves - of civil society groups as well as senior oil experts - to keep production in the public sector. The attempts to impose a Western oil agenda regardless have dragged the country into ever deeper violence and continue to shape not just Iraq but the future of energy supplies and Anglo-American military strategy. Fuel on the Fire is vital to our understanding of the war in Iraq and its consequences. It documents the clash between cultures and strategic interests. It reverberates with echoes of our imperial past and of our tragic failure to learn the lessons of history.


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Oil lies at the heart of Iraqi politics. Yet in the eight years since the bombs began to fall on Baghdad it has been a taboo subject. In Greg Muttitt's gripping and far-reaching investigation we are taken behind the scenes of the occupation to answer one of the war's most pressing questions: what is happening to Iraq's oil? In public the USA and Britain strenuously deny any Oil lies at the heart of Iraqi politics. Yet in the eight years since the bombs began to fall on Baghdad it has been a taboo subject. In Greg Muttitt's gripping and far-reaching investigation we are taken behind the scenes of the occupation to answer one of the war's most pressing questions: what is happening to Iraq's oil? In public the USA and Britain strenuously deny any self-interest. In private, however, they tell a different story. Drawing on hundreds of unreleased government documents and extensive interviews with senior American, British and Iraqi officials and oilmen, Fuel on the Fire reveals how the occupying powers have sought to return Iraq's oil industry to multinational companies - for the first time since it was nationalised in the early 1970s. But America and Britain failed to take into account the determination of the Iraqis themselves - of civil society groups as well as senior oil experts - to keep production in the public sector. The attempts to impose a Western oil agenda regardless have dragged the country into ever deeper violence and continue to shape not just Iraq but the future of energy supplies and Anglo-American military strategy. Fuel on the Fire is vital to our understanding of the war in Iraq and its consequences. It documents the clash between cultures and strategic interests. It reverberates with echoes of our imperial past and of our tragic failure to learn the lessons of history.

30 review for Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rindala

    At least for myself, I think it's safe to say that a journalist's account of the occupation of Iraq is much more interesting than an anthropologist's or a historian. Muttitt's style of writing was super engaging, and the book was true page-turner - it made me think of how politicized our identities have become, and how explicit that's shown in the case of Iraq.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

    First, a link: http://www.fuelonthefire.com/ This book is really, really well researched. If it had come out earlier it probably would have been heavily discussed and attacked but interest in Iraq's recent history has really gone downhill in the past few years. The best parts IMO are the first, fourth and fifth. Part 1 covers everything from the 1920s to the invasion and general info on the state of the oil industry and global oil reserves at the time. Part 4 covers the struggle against the oil la First, a link: http://www.fuelonthefire.com/ This book is really, really well researched. If it had come out earlier it probably would have been heavily discussed and attacked but interest in Iraq's recent history has really gone downhill in the past few years. The best parts IMO are the first, fourth and fifth. Part 1 covers everything from the 1920s to the invasion and general info on the state of the oil industry and global oil reserves at the time. Part 4 covers the struggle against the oil law that was being pushed through during the worst violence the country had experienced post 2003, and part 5 talks about everything after and the auctions that happened in absence of the law and the state repression that happened along the way. There's nothing really wrong with the stuff in between but if you were a news junkie between 2003 and 2006 most of the info presented in parts 2 and 3 won't be new to you. Among many things, this book is so great for how much perspective we get from Iraqi technocrats and also trade unionists-usually books or documentaries about the Iraq war only interview Iraqi politicians or the occasional NGO head. Guernica published a really great excerpt that profiles the oil workers' unions and how they mobilized against the oil law. Hassan Juma'a, head of their union who is one of the main characters is currently being prosecuted by the state for organizing protests and faces upto 3 years in prison. I didn't agree with everything said here but that didn't change how useful and informative the book was overall. It's especially helpful at elucidating what was going on from 2006 on, as so much of the mainstream media coverage focused entirely on bloodshed, and so much of the international left began to willfully ignore Iraq. As Muttitt pointed out, the only international activist sector that remained active in advocating for Iraq were organized labour. In any case the arguments presented here were way more intelligent and interesting than straight up "blood for oil" and don't deserve to be dismissed as such.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rhuff

    "We Now Know," to mock John Lewis Gaddis’ coldwar phrase. Opponents of the war on Iraq deeply suspected it was “all about the oil,” but could not know exactly how. Greg Muttitt shows us, being privy to the debates – and let’s state it frankly, conspiracies – hatched to facilitate the resource looting behind the regime change. Human beings do have the capacity to sincerely hold self-serving beliefs, blinding themselves to deeper motives - as Muttitt generously advocates in his conclusion. But his "We Now Know," to mock John Lewis Gaddis’ coldwar phrase. Opponents of the war on Iraq deeply suspected it was “all about the oil,” but could not know exactly how. Greg Muttitt shows us, being privy to the debates – and let’s state it frankly, conspiracies – hatched to facilitate the resource looting behind the regime change. Human beings do have the capacity to sincerely hold self-serving beliefs, blinding themselves to deeper motives - as Muttitt generously advocates in his conclusion. But his own experience as exquisitely detailed in his book leaves no doubt that colonial punishers and privatizers, like neo-con “Viceroy” Paul Bremer, contract-packing oilmen, and carpetbagging exiles knew exactly how craven they were. He doesn’t dwell on the geopolitics, confining his analysis to the actions of Western politicians and oil executives working in tandem to rip the place apart and gulp its innards like desert jackals. If this sounds extreme, reading of the neo-con justification for launching the war leaves no other conclusion. Having failed to replace the Shah as pro-Western strongman, not only Saddam Hussein was to be removed, but the Iraqi state was itself to be broken: no new Saddam would ever use Iraqi oil to fuel a war machine challenging the balance of power in the Middle East. For the neo-cons, controlling the oil controlled local politics, ensuring the resources flowed into the right military-industrial complex. For the petro transnationals it was all profit. A weak Iraq served both: artificially fragmented into regions, segregated into religious factions by administrative dictate, held in place on the map more by external borders than its own cohesion. Muttitt reveals how the scramble for oil shaped the entire occupation, from Bremer through “the Surge.” What’s also demonstrated is the rank collaboration in this deception by the media and academia: self-serving stereotypes about Iraq and Muslims are still uncritically propagated, leaving a puzzled public sensing it’s somehow being cheated by smooth tricksters as on a Bourbon Street sidewalk, but not understanding how. Yet Muttitt also shows Iraqi resistance to Big Oil and its military-political allies: firstly by insisting they were Iraqis at all, not just Arabs, not confined by sectarian identities. Muttitt describes his shock at discovering that these “divisions” were, at the outset, not entrenched like the religious chasm of Northern Ireland. Rather they were deliberately exaggerated and forced on the population by unrepresentative, collaborating politicians, creating a segregation enforced by local “klans”. He follows Iraqi unions as they fight proposed oil laws, designed to justifying resource rape and tying the victims’ hands by injunctions of “contract.” The control of said resources was behind the century-long anti-colonial conflict of the West vs. nationalist Iraq; this entire history was to be completely reversed by deconstructing 20th century Iraq to its most primitive level and re-colonizing its sands. Thanks to resistance – not just “the insurgency” but how Iraqis chose to define themselves and what they wanted – this new/old order did not quite succeed. The book was written before the rise of ISIS, ISIL, IS, or whatever it will next call itself. How this new round of war was shaped by the previous decade is not hard to understand, thanks to incisive reporters like Greg Muttitt. A weakened Iraqi state, unable to control its territory, its society pummeled by war, fueled (pun intended) by a decade of forced poverty, its resource revenues gone (water shortage another big issue) thusly surrendered to “white space” on its map like creeping desertification. ISIS merely filled this empty quarter, justifying a new round of American conquest. All a conspiracy to continue resource extraction? We’ll soon know if so, thanks to honest investigating insiders like Mr. Muttitt.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sameer Kesava

    As one commentator quoted by the author puts in neatly, "US and UK are in Iraq not for its sand!". The author seems genuinely concerned for Iraq and people like him and others, in cooperation with the locals, are the reason why the big, disgusting, oil and tech companies, have not yet destroyed the world. Give them a free hand or honest and brave people stop caring, mankind will be destroyed much before climate change unleashes its fury. African and Asian countries, including India, will continu As one commentator quoted by the author puts in neatly, "US and UK are in Iraq not for its sand!". The author seems genuinely concerned for Iraq and people like him and others, in cooperation with the locals, are the reason why the big, disgusting, oil and tech companies, have not yet destroyed the world. Give them a free hand or honest and brave people stop caring, mankind will be destroyed much before climate change unleashes its fury. African and Asian countries, including India, will continue to suffer because the Western countries or rather, their governments, know how to manipulate in the name of democracy and progress. This book throws light onto such tactics and how the Western governments work in cohort with corrupt politicians of the developing countries. The hypocrisy, again, of the west was unbelievably blatant and very conveniently ignored by majority of the western media. However, the point to remember is that its the governments, not the people, which are causing such devastation through deliberate and age-old tactics of divide and conquer. The only way for developing countries to progress is finding an incorruptible leader, which I believe India has; complete separation of state from religion at all costs and formation of strong, secular civil societies to make the elected officials accountable for their actions. In short, a very good book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Apprentice sorcerers in an age of total unaccountability [Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the Apprentice sorcerers in an age of total unaccountability [Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites]. A love tribute to Iraqi civil society, the book is a naive (and astonishingly not patronizing) chronicle of the Iraqi attempts at resisting the messy, improvised and patronizing plots of the occupying motley crew of lawyers, oil companies, British and American politicians and bureaucrats. There is something almost amusing in Iraqi civil society - shattered as it was and is by decades of dictatorship, war and sanctions - succeeding in not passing a new oil law that was Condoleeza Rice's coveted prize for the occupation. But this is not a funny topic. The author however is so charitable as to put the violence and the country's economic collapse into the background, leading us from summit to summit, between the Green Zone, London, Amman, and Washington, following in the footsteps of the book's true heroes, the resurrected Iraqi trade unions. As the epic unfolds, we are struck by the comparison that slowly emerges between two democracies - the Iraqi and the western, British and American - and we are at a loss at telling which is the fledgling one. How is it possible that the US congress be asked to consider a law that breaks Iraq down into three regions? How can US government institutions be entitled to taking decisions on an independent country, in theory and officially totally outside of their jurisdiction? Has the US lost its constitutional bearings? On the other hand, you have Iraqi officials clinging to their 1960 law stating that all oil contracts have to be approved by the Iraqi parliament, and despite all the incentives and pressures, they refuse to go against it, even in the midst of widespread corruption. An important thesis of the book is that Iraqi sectarian divisions were induced and then reinforced by the occupying powers, as part of a 'divide and rule' strategy, which is familiar to us from the Rwandan genocide (where the Tutsi - Hutu divide had been fostered and enforced by the colonial powers). Chapter by chapter, we see Iraq's democracy fight back, and slowly present a united, 'ultra-nationalistic' front on all vital political issues, especially on the oil question. Reading the book from the contemporary perspective of Isis' rise to power, it is difficult to stick to this view though. Where do the 3,500 daily casualties mentioned in passing come from? Can a society be so weak that its attitude towards violence and its identity can be distorted in a matter of months? The author lacks theories, pressed as he is by the urgency to bear testimony to struggles that the media rule out of the public opinion's agenda. This leaves however many questions unanswered. And for all the manoeuvering around the oil contracts painstakingly reported here, one is left with the nagging feeling that this war was not, after all, about oil - but possibly about something darker and more inherent to western societies than that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Awab AlShwaikh

    الكتاب مليء بالمعلومات والمشاهدات، ولكنه يفتقد للمصداقية على اعتبار أن الكاتب ينتمي إلى المعسكر الآخر ويجهل الكثير من الحقائق عن طبيعة المجتمع العراقي الكاتب لم يكن متحاملا، بل حاول بجدية أن يكون مُمصِفاً، ولكنه فشل في اقناع الرجل العراقي بذلك تميز الكتاب بذكر الكثير من الحقائق والمعلومات الخاصة بشركات النفط العالمية ورجال السياسة ودورهم المباشر وغير المباشر في العراق منذ السبعينيات وحتى الغزو الكتاب مفيد جداً لمن يبحث عن المعلومة والحقائق، الا أن الآراء الشخصية الواردة فيه تعبر عن رأي الكاتب لا أك الكتاب مليء بالمعلومات والمشاهدات، ولكنه يفتقد للمصداقية على اعتبار أن الكاتب ينتمي إلى المعسكر الآخر ويجهل الكثير من الحقائق عن طبيعة المجتمع العراقي الكاتب لم يكن متحاملا، بل حاول بجدية أن يكون مُمصِفاً، ولكنه فشل في اقناع الرجل العراقي بذلك تميز الكتاب بذكر الكثير من الحقائق والمعلومات الخاصة بشركات النفط العالمية ورجال السياسة ودورهم المباشر وغير المباشر في العراق منذ السبعينيات وحتى الغزو الكتاب مفيد جداً لمن يبحث عن المعلومة والحقائق، الا أن الآراء الشخصية الواردة فيه تعبر عن رأي الكاتب لا أكثر، ولا يمكن الاعتماد عليها

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kaela

    A thoroughly documented breakdown of the United States' war in Iraq and how oil and the promise of energy security were the backdrop of invasion, occupation, and eventual retreat. "[The case of Iraq] followed a general pattern in the Middle East: the West's concerns about security or human rights are always refracted through the lens of oil." This book shows that America can never change its approach to climate change or foreign policy unless there is "a separation of oil and state."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anthea

    Clean, clinical and clear analysis of oil and the war in Iraq. A troubling read (especially for ardent interventionists) but an essential one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Piet Visser

    A really good look at the Iraq war, and the history before, during and after.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Very well written, and especially interesting as I am currently working in Iraq. It does make me very disappointed in Western politics though...but not surprised.

  11. 5 out of 5

    MarkG

    Exhaustively researched work. Describes with left leaning sensibility the importance of oil, not in the reasons for invading Iraq but it's recovery and how Iraq would be governed in the future.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robin

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ilze

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Reuter

  16. 5 out of 5

    FlashRead

  17. 4 out of 5

    Imad Mawlawi

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ron Moss

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hajer

  20. 5 out of 5

    Middlethought

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Wren

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Prestine

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stockfish

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rob W

  26. 4 out of 5

    Copia

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rohan Advani

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mateusz Marciniak

  29. 4 out of 5

    Loubna Mrie

  30. 4 out of 5

    Barry

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