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Fuel on the Fire: Oil and the Iraq War (event report)

Duncan M cFarlandTerry Rockefeller of Families for Peaceful Tomorrows hosted a book party July 26 featuring Greg Muttitt talking about his book  "Fuel on the Fire: Oil and the Iraq War".   A wide ranging discussion followed.  Greg focused on the role of oil in the war on Iraq.  About 60% of the world's oil reserves are in the Middle East, with about 10% in Iraq.  British and American companies pretty much had their way with Middle East oil production during the first half of the twentieth century, but political shifts eventually led to the Iraqi Baath government nationalizing Iraq's oil in 1972.  Soon thereafter, other Middle East countries nationalized their oil resources with Iran being the last in 1979.    Therefore, during the 1980s the big multinational corporations took advantage of major tax breaks to shift development of new production to the North Sea and Alaska, and in the 1990s to offshore wells and parts of the former Soviet Union.  By the late 90's, however, big oil was desperate to find new resources to exploit.  Attention turned back to the Middle East with 60% of the world's resources; planning in the late 1990s of the oil companies and politicians and officials in the US and UK overlapped on a strategy: wrest control of the Middle East resources from the governments and privatize the oil industry to make way for big corporate investments.  Production could be expanded and profits maintained at a high level.  

Greg Muttitt
Greg Muttitt
Muttitt recounts previously secret meetings of BP and Shell with British government officials prior to the invasion of Iraq discussing British military involvement and the quid pro quo -- oil contracts for British companies.  Muttitt's research shows that the principal motivation for the US and UK attacking Iraq was to secure oil, with actual concerns about weapons of mass destruction or human rights repression not even on the radar screen.
Iraqi oil workers showed great commitment to keep things running as the US occupation took hold; early on, Iraqi workers began to organize trade unions.  They not only wanted to protect the workers rights but saw also to defend the oil industry as a principal resource of the Iraqi nation.  The US and UK, however, were eager to pass a new Oil Law that would repeal the 1967 law which gave the Iraq parliament the power to review oil contracts.  The US/UK wanted to use a new oil law to privatize Iraqi oil to open it up for multinational corporations to take charge.  The Iraqi executive branch drafted a new law in collaboration with the occupation forces and oil companies; however, a draft of the supposedly secret new law was leaked out and a fireball of rage and opposition swept through Iraqi civil society, led by the trade unions.  The people of Iraqi were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining Iraqi ownership of the oil and opposed to giving it away to foreigners.  
The mass campaign to stop the oil law gained momentum through 2007 and opposition members of parliament began to oppose the executive branch which initiated the law.  Eventually it became clear that a majority in parliament would block the law despite US and IMF threats.  When the Sept. 2007 deadline came and there was still no agreement on the oil law, it became clear that the law was defeated.  This was a great victory for Iraqi civil society and the trade unions.  To this day, there is still no oil law.
With the defeat of the oil law, US political influence began to decline, as it became clear that the top item of the US/UK agenda had been thwarted.   The Bush administration negotiated a Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement initially calling for indefinite US troop presence which was whittled down to 3 years.  When the Dec. 31, 2011 termination of SOFA approached, the Obama administration was unable to get an extension as the Iraqi government refused the provision that US military personnel accused of crimes would be tried in US military courts (and not in Iraq courts).   Consequently all US troops were withdrawn and bases turned over to Iraq in Jan. 2012.
The current situation is that several thousand contractors and security personnel remain in Iraq while the military proper has been withdrawn.  Consequently there is a qualitatively new phase has developed.  The Maliki government is very unpopular and isolated from the people.  Maliki represses the unions and has granted oil production contracts to BP, Exxon, Shell and other companies without parliamentary approval, which is illegal.  A new government could renegotiate or tear up the contracts, which would have no status in international law.  The foreign corporations operate as they wish with no effective Iraqi oversight.   The Iraqi oil industry itself was seriously damaged by the war and occupation and would take years to rebuild, with training a priority.  Muttitt feels the situation in Iraq is fluid, with future possibilities ranging from a restoration of dictatorship to Iraqi civil society, which defeated the oil law, pushing towards more democracy. 
Discussion focused on the importance of solidarity work and not simply forgetting about Iraq now that the war proper is over.  Suggestions included working with US Labor Against the War which has ties with Iraqi labor unions; supporting Iraqi refugees in Eastern Massachusetts; sponsoring a delegation of Iraqi activists on a tour of the US; joining a meeting of the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Network in Basra later in 2012; opposing the daming of the Tigris River in Turkey which would have disastrous consequences downstream in Iraq.  
Thanks again to Terry Rockefeller, Greg Muttitt and the others who made this fascinating talk possible.  Greg's book is available now in an American edition and can be purchased online.


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