Jon Sack, 'Iraqi Oil for Beginners'

IssueDecember 2007 - January 2008
Review by Gabriel Carlyle

Not long after the discovery of oil in Persia in 1908, Winston Churchill instigated a programme to convert the British navy from coal-to oil- powered vessels. Control over the oilfields of the Middle East - including, of course, those of modern-day Iraq - became a major priority of western foreign policy, and to a large extent has shaped the face of the peace movement today.

Jon Sack's Iraqi Oil for Beginners is a comic history of Iraq which takes us through the fascinating (and for many activists largely unknown) history of Iraq, starting with its induced birth in 1920 and the clinching of control by Western oil companies that followed.

After a short, though slightly confusing, who's who of 1920s oil corporations, it ploughs through the internal frictions leading to the 1958 revolution, then onwards to Iraq's bid for independence in 1961 via “Law 80” (which took back control of large chunks of territory from the international oil companies), and the appearance of the then-little-known 22-year-old Saddam Hussein, allegedly working for the CIA.

We're led through eight years of “the whirlwind war” with Iran in the 80s, and “Desert Storm” in 91, which paved the way for a decade of genocidal economic sanctions - responsible for the death of ½ million Iraqi children. Proceeding, we enter the more familiar terrain of the post-2003 corporate carve-up, finishing up with Production Sharing Agreements (a form of de facto privatisation currently being pushed on Iraq) and the struggle for legitimacy by the Iraqi oil unions.

To summarise a century of injustices done to Iraq is a tall order, but it's extremely useful information for any activist - and a chilling eye- opener for anyone unaware that Iraq was on the West's agenda long before 9/11.

Sack covers a hell of a lot of ground in a fairly small number of pages. Consequently, there's often too much - and too small - text crammed into them.

Perhaps if the publication were longer, with history served in the traditional bite-size comic strip style, it would have been more palatable. Nonetheless, many of the pictures are beautifully drawn (the ones of Khomeini and the scenes from the oilfields in particular).

Overall the publication is an extremely good starting point for anyone wanting to understand the complexities of Iraq's history.

The concluding page helps to focus the preceding material: Iraq is one of the richest resource-based countries in the world, yet one fifth of Iraqis survive on $1 a day.

As activists we need to campaign for justice in Iraq, and we need to be clued up on facts. Sack's dash through history is a very good place to start.

Topics: Iraq
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