Greg Muttitt, Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

IssueJuly / August 2011
Review by Ewa Jasiewicz

Greg Muttitt’s first solo book follows on from joint projects with socio-environmental arts project Platform, taking on the oil industry, British foreign policy past and present, market dynamics, and the grassroots impact of big powers at play. With this book we see Muttitt shifting into top gear, drawing on the interdisciplinary analysis and corporate super-sleuthing he’s honed over the past 15 years with Platform and Corporate Watch (which he helped co-found) to navigate the neo-con, neo-imperial struggle over Iraq’s oil with fluency, integrity and wit.

This book doesn’t just map the machinations of Bush, Blair, Cheney, Khalilizad, Bremer and Carroll, the Western oil magnates, diplomats and presidents – the “baddies” familiar to us on placards and protest pieces in Viewspapers. It also charts the motivations, moves and identities of lesser-known players in Iraq’s oil story – the Iraqi technocrats, oil ministers, union leaders, and community organisers such as Hassan Jumaa Awad, the president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, engineer Falah al-Khawaja, expert Tariq Shafiq and Hazim Sultan, former director-general of the Ministry of Oil.

Muttitt begins by expanding the concept of a resource war, fleshing out the popular mantra that “it was all about oil” using the lenses of empire, capitalism, the security of markets, and Iraqi resistance to foreign interference. Through hundreds of FoI requests, private meetings, interviews and conference-shmoozed conversations, Muttitt animates the working groups, projects, thinktanks, governmental committees, secret memos and advisory reports out of their codified, colourless, back-corridor invisibility and on to the global chessboard of power – their influence exposed and the faceless autocrats, bureaucrats and diplomats given identity, agency and accountability.

A beleaguered but patriotic Iraqi oil elite is shown jammed between a rock and a hard place – a military occupation backing undemocratic corporate interests and a newly installed ethno-sectarian ruling class – a political climate not conducive to resisting empire’s move to secure cheap oil for Western capital. Yet the story evolves to include players not covered by the mainstream media: the oil workers, experts, scholars, imams and community organisers resisting the most powerful alliance of interests to occupy their country.

Muttitt went to Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait, not just in search of the Iraqi side of the story, but also to play his part in influencing the struggle for resource sovereignty and democracy in Iraq. As an expert, he became a confidant and insider, and was not just a witness to the struggle over Iraq’s resources – one which the people are winning and the oil companies and occupiers are losing – but an influential figure and character in the story himself, advising, exposing, supporting and changing the way Iraq and Iraq’s oil industry and inhabitants are seen.

Revealing moves outmanoeuvred, ambitions thwarted, and agendas unrealised, Muttitt shows that controlling a people and their resources is a constant struggle, a game as old as empire, and never a “done deal”.

This is what makes Fuel on the Fire not just a history book, but a historical book, not only for the untold stories that it tells but also as a tool, guiding the reader fluently through the relationships between capital, oil, corporations, government and democracy. This book helps to show how power works and who can have it wherever the Big Powers attempt to impose their interests.

Topics: Corporations, Iraq