We call on those states responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to terminate their illegal and immoral war, and express our solidarity with the Iraqi people in their struggle for peace, justice and self-determination.

In particular, we demand:

  1. An immediate end to the US and UK-led occupation of Iraq;
  2. Urgent action to fully address the current humanitarian crises facing Iraq’s people, including help for the more than three million refugees and displaced persons;
  3. An end to all foreign interference in Iraq's affairs, including its oil industry, so that Iraqis can exercise their right to self-determination;
  4. Compensation and reparations from those countries responsible for war and sanctions on Iraq;
  5. Prosecution of all those responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the theft of Iraq's resources.

We demand justice for Iraq.

This statement was adopted by the Justice for Iraq conference in London on 19th July 2008. We plan to publish this more widely in future. If you would like to add your name to the list of supporters please contact us.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

So it was all about oil!

Mike Phipps reviews Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, by Greg Muttitt, published by The Bodley Head, price £14.99 pbk.

Was the invasion and occupation of Iraq the first of a series of new “resource wars”? To answer this, argues Greg Muttitt, we have to rethink our ideas. Forget loading up your ships with as much plunder as they can carry. “A far more valuable prize can be carried in a briefcase or on a laptop computer: contracts, laws and policies that ensure the flow of resources over decades.”

It has been high oil prices, often caused by a shortage of supply, that has caused most recent recessions in the western oil-importing countries. By the end of the 20th century, most oil-rich countries were producing as much as they could. Iraq was the exception. Due to the sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War, only about one-third of its known oilfields were actually producing.

The idea of military action to guarantee oil production doesn’t look so far-fetched, when you look at the west’s bombing of Libya. In 2008, NATO’s Secretary General said NATO’s role in energy security should include helping to coordinate the actions of energy-importing countries. In 2010, Hillary Clinton suggested energy disruptions should be considered grounds for military action.

The overlap between oil executives and policymakers was well-noted in the Bush Administration, with Bush, Cheney and Rice all having been on the boards of oil companies. Less well-known is the degree of pressure oil companies here were putting on the British Government before 2003 and how, post-invasion, the Government pressurised the puppet Iraqi regime on their behalf. This is in stark contrast to Tony Blair’s insistence that an oil motive was “absurd”.

The invasion itself has been well-documented. Over 6,000 civilians were killed by US-led forces in the first three weeks. Some 60% of the national archives were destroyed and all public buildings, with the exception of the Ministry of Oil, were burned, looted or destroyed. This included half the country’s secondary schools, 84% of higher education institutions and most hospitals - despite Blair’s false claim that it was only those that served the political elite. Far from intervening to stop the looting, it is now clear that US troops had explicit orders not to. The US even opened the army arsenals, allowing people to collect weapons without restrictions. Naïve error, or deliberate policy?

While the US threw millions of dollars at phoney NGOs, often created in Washington, ordinary Iraqis realised they had to organise themselves to defend their rights. Two months into the Occupation, Basra oil workers had still not received their wages. They blocked off the road and when Coalition troops threatened to shoot, the workers prepared to set fire to the oil tankers. Hasty negotiations ensured they got their pay within 24 hours - a clear lesson in what a union could achieve.

But such independent protests did not fit into the Occupiers’ plans. As Iraqis called for free elections, an internal memo warned “elections could create a legitimate counter authority to the Coalition Provisional Authority.” Instead, an advisory body of Iraqis was appointed, with religious affiliation - something Iraqis traditionally considered unimportant - being a key determinant. Henceforth, politics would not be about ideas, but sects and ethnicities - a recipe for chaos, but convenient for rebranding the Occupation in the western media as a neutral arbiter between warring factions.

Meanwhile, newly revealed documents now show how western oil companies pushed hard for lucrative contracts to be signed by Iraqi puppets appointed by the Occupation. Only the legal shakiness of such deals held them back.

As opposition to the Occupation mounted, the US meted out repression, often brutal, as in Najaf. Some of Saddam’s most vicious Ba’athist agents were recruited to a new intelligence service. Detainees were routinely tortured at Abu Ghraib. Evidence surfaced of the training of “death squads” by the Pentagon.

Fallujah was razed to the ground, men between the ages of 15 and 55 having been denied exit from the city. Banned white phosphorous munitions were used, although the US lied about this at first.

It was in these circumstances that the Occupation held its first “free election” - boycotted by most Sunni parties in protest against Fallujah’s destruction. The newly elected parliament was unrepresentative in other ways, as Iraqis were increasingly coerced to adopt sectarian identities against their will.

Hassan Juma’a, leader of the Basra oil workers union, affirmed that such distinctions were artificial. “If the US did not whip up divisions, they could not divide and rule.” But, as Muttitt notes, “Feeding off the new politics of communal self-interest, sectarian violence escalated” - often to the point where nobody knew who was responsible.

But what of the oil? Just eight days after Iraq’s election in December 2005, the country, crippled by the previous regime’s debts, was obliged to adopt stringent IMF conditions for a loan. In the small print, the IMF imposed a deadline for an oil law, opening Iraq’s energy resources to multinational companies. This was the cue for an army of corporate lawyers to descend to push for watertight contracts that could be enforced in international courts - a robbing of Iraq’s sovereignty.

Muttitt gives a fascinating and detailed account of this process. At one point, he was asked by the UK Foreign Office to “help sell the oil law to Iraqis”. Instead, he travelled to the region to explain its implications to Iraqi trade unionists.

As oil workers began to campaign against the new law, the Iraqi Government clamped down. But the attempt to arrest Hassan Juma’a and others in Basra was thwarted when the general in charge met the union leaders and was won over by the justice of their case! A precarious stalemate ensued, but the campaign against the oil law gathered momentum, reviving a sense of Iraqi nationalism.

Yet the British Government continued to parrot the official Occupation line. “The Government of Iraq is tackling illegal trade union activities within the South Oil Company,” said Minister Kim Howells.

Eventually of course, western oil companies got their contracts, although, without the approval of the Iraqi parliament, they are actually illegal. As production increases, the price will fall, reducing the revenue Iraq gets. If the Government asks the companies to produce less, it has to compensate them, the contracts stipulate. And with Iraq ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, there is likelihood that the ordinary Iraqis will benefit from the sell-off of the country’s natural resources.

Still the deals give far less to investors than would have been the case without the massive campaign against the oil law, led by trade unions and grassroots organisations. This campaign played a unifying role and helped repudiate the sectarian politics imposed by the Occupation. The same spirit was evident in last summer’s demonstrations, fiercely repressed, against power outages and the recent ‘Iraqi spring’ - protests across the country against government corruption and incompetence.

Greg Muttitt has done a brilliant job, both in bringing to life the key players in this story and in detailing how Iraq was deprived of its assets. Fuel on the Fire really is the secret history of the war on Iraq.

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