The former co-director of Platform, a London-based group devoted to combating the harmful influences of transnational corporations, unravels Iraq’s oil politics.
In this well-reported debut, Muttitt never insists that oil was the sole motive for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As both an activist and freelancer, he makes his sympathies plain from the beginning, but he rejects crude conspiracy theories in favor of a more subtle take: that the occupiers genuinely saw themselves as liberators, never acknowledging their own self-interest in securing an energy supply. Still, the British and Americans acted in precisely the manner expected of imperial powers, particularly when it came to the oil sector, installing dubious allies in government and industry, starving domestic institutions of resources and authority, and stoking political divisions among the indigenous opposition. Muttitt relies on his own deep familiarity with the region, damning documents made available by the Freedom of Information Act, and interviews with numerous Iraqi oil experts and government officials to demonstrate the centrality of oil to the war’s planning and execution, to explain the chaotic first months of occupation (ever wonder why the Ministry of Oil was the sole public building unlooted or unburned?), and the many missteps of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Follow the oil, Muttitt advises, to fully understand the years of sectarian violence, the tortuous formation of the deeply flawed permanent government, the thwarted attempt to privatize an oil industry 30 years nationalized, and the handoff from occupying powers to armed security forces of the big oil companies. Throughout, the author displays an exquisite sensitivity and a deep respect for the resilience of the Iraqis and the sophistication of their oil industry before its gutting by the occupation. He’s contemptuous of today’s scramble for profits among the likes of ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. No, the war wasn’t only about oil, but as one State Department adviser asked, “What did Iraq have that we would like to have? It wasn’t the sand.”
There will be readers who disagree with Muttitt’s thesis. They will now be obliged to marshal similarly convincing evidence.