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Oil Buddies

by John Mar­shall
Talk­ing Points Memo

An arti­cle in tomor­row’s Times reports that the long-nego­ti­at­ed com­pro­mise which seemed to be lead­ing towards an Iraqi oil law — a key ‘progress’ bench­mark — has appar­ent­ly col­lapsed. All gone down the drain.

The sto­ry though con­nects up with anoth­er one we told you about just a cou­ple days ago — the deci­sion of the Kur­dis­tan region­al gov­ern­ment to sign an oil explo­ration deal with Dal­las-based Hunt Oil, run by Mr. Ray L. Hunt.

The Shia and Sun­ni lead­ers believe the Kurds are opt­ing for a sort of oil seces­sion that puts them out­side the whole con­cept of a law to share the coun­try’s oil resources. And the Hunt deal is appar­ent­ly the straw that broke the camel’s back, shall we say.

But remem­ber, Hunt, in addi­tion to being the son of leg­endary Texas John Birch Soci­ety extrem­ist H.L. Hunt, is also a pal of the pres­i­den­t’s. Indeed, Pres­i­dent Bush has twice appoint­ed Hunt to his For­eign Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board. So while the pres­i­dent is striv­ing to get the Iraqis to meet these bench­marks one of his own pals — and more impor­tant­ly, polit­i­cal appointees — is busy help­ing to tear the whole thing apart.

Discussion

2 comments for “Oil Buddies”

  1. Josh Mar­shall notes some­thing rather impor­tant about a recent sale and ship­ment of oil from Iraqi Kur­dis­tan to Israel: The Kirkuk-Cey­han Oil Pipeline that shipped the oil through Turkey nev­er pass­es through oth­er parts of Iraq, mean­ing the Kurds can poten­tial­ly move that oil to glob­al mar­kets with­out the approval of the cen­tral Iraqi gov­ern­ment mean­ing an inde­pen­dent Kur­dis­tan is increas­ing­ly becom­ing a real­i­ty:

    TPM Edi­tor’s Blog
    A Big Deal
    Josh Mar­shall – June 21, 2014, 10:23 PM EDT

    Today the gov­ern­ment of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan com­plet­ed its first suc­cess­ful sale and ship­ment of oil to Israel (Kur­dish region­al gov­ern­ment state­ment here). Know­ing that the Iraqi cen­tral gov­ern­ment would not allow the Kurds to sell on their own account and cer­tain­ly not to Israel, when I first saw the ref­er­ence to a Kur­dish ship­ment by tanker, know­ing the geog­ra­phy of the region, I thought, “Wow, that’s impres­sive.” The expla­na­tion is that the oil was trans­shipped via a Kur­dis­tani pipeline into the Kirkuk-Cey­han Oil Pipeline. In oth­er words, it trav­elled almost entire­ly through Turkey to the port of Cey­han and shipped from there to Israel.

    The rela­tion­ship between the Kurds and Israel is by no means new, though it has nev­er been for­mal. It also appears that the oil deliv­ered to the Israeli port of Askelon is like­ly not des­tined for use local­ly but rather for stor­age and even­tu­al ship­ment else­where. For the Israelis, though, it is a key part of a strat­e­gy to deep­en rela­tions with the Kurds of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, as well as access new sup­plies of ener­gy.

    For the Kurds of course the impli­ca­tions are poten­tial­ly pro­found. The abil­i­ty to export oil at scale entire­ly out­side the con­trol of the Iraqi cen­tral gov­ern­ment is a huge step toward de fac­to inde­pen­dence, whether or not the Kurds took the step of for­mal­ly sev­er­ing ties with Iraq. And the Iraqi cen­tral gov­ern­ment has been going to great lengths inter­na­tion­al­ly to pre­vent any­one from tak­ing ship­ment of this oil.

    The devel­op­ment takes on con­sid­er­ably more import in light of the chaot­ic devel­op­ments over recent weeks in Iraq. As ISIS mil­i­tants raced from Syr­ia across the Sun­ni heart­land of Iraq, the Kur­dish pesh­mer­ga took pos­ses­sion of Kirkuk, the site of Iraq’s fourth largest oil field and a city most Kurds believe to be a right­ful part of Kur­dis­tan — indeed, most see it as their true cap­i­tal. This means that the Kur­dish Region­al Gov­ern­ment (KRG) is now is pos­ses­sion of most of what Kurds con­sid­er to be the Kur­dish lands with­in Iraq. They could also poten­tial­ly now add oil from Kirkuk to the already sub­stan­tial reserves with­in the KRG itself.

    As not­ed above, the Kurds have a way to export oil via the pipeline they have built from their oil field at Taq Taq to the Kirkuk-Cey­han pipeline. The for­mer con­nects up to the lat­er at Faysh Khabur, an Assyr­i­an town right at the Turk­ish-Iraqi bor­der but just with­in the ter­ri­to­ry of the KRG. So the Kurds can get oil to the Mediter­ranean with­out hav­ing to oper­ate at all out­side of KRG ter­ri­to­ry. If the occu­pa­tion of Kirkuk becomes per­ma­nent, that sim­ply adds to the poten­tial oil wealth of an inde­pen­dent or de fac­to inde­pen­dent Kur­dis­tan.

    ...

    And if that news does­n’t make an inde­pen­dent Kur­dis­tan seem like­ly, there’s this:

    The Huff­in­g­ton Post

    Turkey Would Sup­port Iraqi Kurds’ Bid For Self-Rule, Spokesman Says In His­toric Remark
    Post­ed: 06/17/2014 5:13 pm EDT Updat­ed: 06/18/2014 7:59 am EDT

    ERBIL, Iraq — In a state­ment that could have a dra­mat­ic impact on region­al pol­i­tics in the Mid­dle East, a spokesman for Turkey’s rul­ing par­ty recent­ly told a Kur­dish media out­let that the Kurds in Iraq have the right to self-deter­mi­na­tion. The state­ment has been rel­a­tive­ly over­looked so far, but could sig­nal a shift in pol­i­cy as Turkey has long been a prin­ci­pal oppo­nent of Kur­dish inde­pen­dence, which would mean a par­ti­tion­ing of Iraq.

    “The Kurds of Iraq can decide for them­selves the name and type of the enti­ty they are liv­ing in,” Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for the Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Par­ty, told the Kur­dish online news out­let Rudaw last week.

    The Kurds have been effec­tive­ly autonomous since 1991, when the U.S. estab­lished a no-fly zone over north­ern Iraq. Turkey, a strong U.S. ally, has long opposed the cre­ation of an inde­pen­dent Kur­dis­tan so that its own east­ern region would not be swal­lowed into it. But Celik’s state­ment indi­cates that the coun­try may be start­ing to view an autonomous Kur­dis­tan as a viable option — a sort of bul­wark against spread­ing extrem­ism with­in a deeply unsta­ble coun­try.

    “The Kurds, like any oth­er nation, will have the right to decide their fate,” Celik told Rudaw, in a sto­ry that was picked up by CNN’s Turk­ish-lan­guage out­let. “Turkey has been sup­port­ing the Kur­dis­tan region till now and will con­tin­ue this sup­port.”

    Turkey and Iraqi Kur­dis­tan have recent­ly forged a strong bond over oil, much to the cha­grin of Iraq, which claims that Bagh­dad has sole author­i­ty over oil in Kur­dis­tan. Turkey recent­ly signed a 50-year ener­gy deal with Iraqi Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous gov­ern­ment to export Kur­dish oil to the north, and Kur­dis­tan has increased its exports this week despite the insur­gency by the Islam­ic State of Iraq and Syr­ia.

    Con­trol of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — known as “the Kur­dish Jerusalem” — has long been an obsta­cle to inde­pen­dence. The Kurds con­trolled it briefly in 1991 before Sad­dam Hus­sein drove them out amid a hor­rif­ic chem­i­cal weapons attack. Last week, they retook con­trol of the dis­put­ed city when Iraqi forces fled ISIS, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to give up the city’s oil reserves. Kirkuk is capa­ble of pro­duc­ing as much as half of all of Iraq’s oil exports, although Kirkuk’s pipeline is cur­rent­ly offline fol­low­ing mil­i­tant attacks in the spring.

    On Tues­day, Sherko Jaw­dat, the chair­man of the Kur­dis­tan Region­al Government’s Nat­ur­al Resources Com­mit­tee, told The Huff­in­g­ton Post that Iraqi Kur­dis­tan is aim­ing to claim a quar­ter of Iraq’s total oil sales.

    “Oil has become an impor­tant polit­i­cal card in the region and the whole world,” he said. “Oil is key to Kurdistan’s eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence, which will even­tu­al­ly lead to polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence.”

    Syr­ia and Iran have long opposed the cre­ation of an inde­pen­dent Kur­dis­tan, but Turkey has been the most sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cle, as it pre­vi­ous­ly threat­ened to invade the area if the Kurds declared inde­pen­dence. With Syr­i­a’s Bashar al-Assad and Iraq’s Nouri al-Mali­ki tied up in civ­il wars, nei­ther seems to be in a posi­tion to stop the Kurds from becom­ing ful­ly inde­pen­dent.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 22, 2014, 4:24 pm
  2. Gary Brech­er has a new piece on I.S.I.S. that points out that, while I.S.I.S.‘s mil­i­tary might may be overblown in the medi­a’s cov­er­age of the group’s light­ning advance, the threat I.S.I.S. pos­es the Iraq’s minor­i­ty groups is poten­tial­ly quite sig­nif­i­cant since I.S.I.S. appears to want to exter­mi­nate them entire­ly:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    The War Nerd: Like it or not, what’s hap­pen­ing in Iraq right now is part of a ratio­nal process

    By Gary Brech­er
    On June 23, 2014

    There’s been a lot of hys­ter­i­cal reac­tion to I.S.I.S.’s big land-grab in Cen­tral Iraq over the last two weeks. But there’s some won­der­ful bad news—“bad” from I.S.I.S’s per­spec­tive — in the fact that all their gains have been on the very flat, dry plains of Cen­tral Iraq. The North­ern pin­cer of their big advance, which was sup­posed to swing north through Tal Afar, has stalled bad­ly.

    And for that small mer­cy, I give whole­heart­ed thanks to what­ev­er god may be. Although god or gods had very lit­tle to do with it. The heroes of this sto­ry are the Pesh Mer­ga, the very cool Kur­dish mili­tia; and topog­ra­phy. Bless the hills of Kur­dis­tan! I always loved them, espe­cial­ly in Spring when the flow­ers explode over their slopes. But now those hills and the men and women of the Pesh Merga—the Mid­dle East’s only tru­ly gen­der-neu­tral fight­ing force—are the only thing sav­ing all the ter­ri­fied, dwin­dling minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties of North­ern Iraq from the savagery—yeah, sav­agery; why lie?—of a new zom­bie gen­er­a­tion of Wah­habized Arab/Sunni jihadis.

    What the jihadis have accom­plished is grim enough, but their showoff videos of behead­ings and mass exe­cu­tions are minor surges in what is, like it or not, a ratio­nal process: The par­ti­tion of Iraq into three, rather than the pre­vi­ous two, ethnic/sectarian enclaves. Before I.S.I.S made its big move, Iraq was an unsta­ble, immis­ci­ble col­umn divid­ed into Kur­dis­tan and “every­thing else,” with “every­thing else” ruled by a weak Shia army.

    Now the nat­ur­al three-term par­ti­tion is in place again, with the Sun­ni of the cen­ter, Saddam’s tribe, back to doing what they do best. I don’t mean to min­i­mize the bru­tal­i­ty of the oper­a­tion, but this is a fair­ly bloody part of the world, and we con­tributed rather sig­nif­i­cant­ly to that blood-mush our­selves.

    As long as the Sun­ni jihadis focus their revenge on fel­low Sun­ni Arabs, their tru­ly scary poten­tial for pogroms is lim­it­ed. What I tru­ly fear, as a fond for­mer res­i­dent of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, is that these creeps should break through to the North, into the hills where what’s left of Iraq’s slaugh­tered minori­ties have found a tem­po­rary haven. But so far, they’ve failed to do that at all. All their gains have come among their fel­low Sun­ni on the Cen­tral Plains, which has mut­ed their blood­lust some­what. If those jerks ever got loose among the Assyr­i­an, or Yazi­di, or Tur­co­man, or Chaldean, or Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties hid­ing in the hills…well, you don’t have to guess about what would hap­pen. They’ve said very clear­ly what they’d do, and they’ve done it often enough that there’s no rea­son to doubt their word.

    So thank you, plate tec­ton­ics, for push­ing up the hills along the north­west­ern bor­ders. Thank you for divert­ing the Sun­ni jihadis away from the “kuf­far” unbe­liev­ers whom they’d would kill with even greater enthu­si­asm than they show on their own.

    Actu­al­ly, topog­ra­phy has every­thing to do with what’s gone well or bad­ly for I.S.I.S. in this lat­est push. If you know the eth­nic make­up of the turf they’ve tak­en, their “shock­ing gains” don’t seem so shock­ing, or impres­sive. After all, we’re talk­ing about a mobile force–mounted on the beloved Toy­ota Hilux pick­up truck, favorite vehi­cle of every male in the Mid­dle East—advancing over total­ly flat, dry ground in pur­suit of a total­ly demor­al­ized oppo­nent. In that sit­u­a­tion, any force could take a lot of coun­try very quick­ly. It’s just a mat­ter of putting your foot on the accel­er­a­tor, mov­ing unop­posed on the long stretch­es of flat desert, then dis­mount­ing at the next cross­roads town for a small, quick fire­fight against a few defend­ers who didn’t get the memo to flee. Once they’re dead, you floor it again until the next lit­tle desert town.

    So this isn’t the sec­ond com­ing of Erwin Rom­mel by any means. Every­thing has con­spired to push the Sun­ni advance, from the lousy oppo­nent they’re up against to the ter­rain, which is a light mech­a­nized commander’s dream.

    Flat and dry is how a mech­a­nized force com­man­der wants his ground—and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kur­dish moun­tains, you’re on a dried mud­flat. Iraq is much flat­ter than the deserts of the US, most of which get much more rain than cen­tral Iraq. No rain means lit­tle ero­sion, with few wadis or ravines to slow those Toy­otas down. This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land lit­er­al­ly built by the sed­i­ment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s riv­er mud, but nice and dry because very lit­tle rain falls, espe­cial­ly in June (aver­age rain­fall in June is 5 mm, the size of the num­bers print­ed on an ATM card).

    On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quick­ly as the Sun­ni have. It’s the Bon­neville Salt Flats of insur­gency, the place you go to set new speed records.

    But in the North? No world records set there. In fact, I.S.I.S. seems to be bog­ging down bad­ly around Kirkuk. To under­stand why, you need to con­sid­er both ethnog­ra­phy and ter­rain. And in fact, those two things are linked very tight­ly here, for some grim his­tor­i­cal rea­sons. If you look at an eth­nic map of North­ern Iraq, you’ll notice that the minor­i­ty sects and eth­nic groups (those two cat­e­gories tend to run togeth­er in the Mid­dle East) are clus­tered north of the Cen­tral Iraqi plain, where the ground ris­es toward the seri­ous moun­tains along the Turk­ish and Iran­ian bor­ders.

    There’s a rea­son for that, a sim­ple and cru­el one: Minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties that aren’t pro­tect­ed by the hills tend to get wiped out. All over the world, you’ll find groups described as “hill tribes,” and in almost every case, if you go back a few cen­turies you’ll find that these aren’t “hill tribes” by choice, but defeat­ed tribes who were forced off the plains and into the hills to sur­vive. In places as far apart as Bur­ma and Kur­dis­tan, that pat­tern holds very clear­ly.

    The hills of North­ern Iraq hold what’s left of some extra­or­di­nary, beau­ti­ful cul­tures that have been wiped out in the more acces­si­ble parts of the coun­try. And unfor­tu­nate­ly, Sun­ni big­ots have been ramp­ing up their efforts to kill the sur­vivors of these groups even in their remote hill towns.

    The strangest of all these minori­ties have to be the Yazi­di. When I was liv­ing in Kur­dis­tan a few years ago, even the Amer­i­cans bought into the pre­vail­ing Sun­ni slan­ders about Yazidis. I remem­ber one South­ern gen­tle­man who’d come back from a week­end vis­it to Sin­jar, a Yazi­di town near the Syr­i­an bor­der, say­ing, “They real­ly are dev­il wor­shipers! A snake cult!” Of course that dude was a prod­uct of Augus­ta, Geor­gia, and played golf—far gone, in oth­er words. Not much you can do with some­one wrong-head­ed enough to play golf.

    ...

    So, by 2007, the Yazi­di hard­ly exist­ed as a peo­ple. But they were still worth slaugh­ter­ing, if you’re a Wah­habized Sun­ni madras­sa zom­bie.

    In a few sec­onds, four of those prod­ucts let go of their dead-man switch­es and killed a full 5% of the remain­ing pop­u­la­tion of Sin­jar. And that wasn’t the only atroc­i­ty vis­it­ed on the Yazi­di; they were pulled off bus­es and shot ‘til the clips were emp­ty, to shouts of “Allahu Akbar.”

    Ah, I shouldn’t get upset. Doesn’t pay. What’s iron­ic, though, is that some of the com­ments on my last Pan­do arti­cle about I.S.I.S accused me of writ­ing “love note to ter­ror­ist monsters”—being too soft on I.S.I.S, in oth­er words. God, if that sanc­ti­mo­nious idiot only knew! You haven’t even begun to feel the ter­ror of Sun­ni pogrom until you’ve had a very lit­er­ate, intel­li­gent Pak­istani col­league dis­miss the killings of Shah­bazz Bhat­ti and Salman Taseer with a shrug, a smile, and the casu­al obser­va­tion: “They were kuf­far, and they deserved to die.”

    Have some­body you respect tell you that in one of the most remote towns in the world, where you hap­pen to be one of a total of sev­en “kuf­far” in res­i­dence, and then see if you’re soft on Arab/Sunni chau­vin­ism.

    I know, bet­ter than most of you, what Sun­ni jihad means. I don’t take it light­ly. But I’m try­ing to get the sto­ry right, and that means keep­ing the ol’ fear and loathing to a min­i­mum, unlike all the oth­er sanc­ti­mo­nious, hys­ter­i­cal reporters act­ing like I.S.I.S. is a hybrid of Rom­mel and Sub­o­tai.

    It’s not. It’s a mid­dling-size, mid­dling-skilled mili­tia, and if we have sense to let it bub­ble and squab­ble with oth­er Sun­ni mili­tias down on the plain, it will devour itself, as it already shows signs of doing, now that fight­ing has start­ed between Ba’athist/Sufi mili­tias and I.S.I.S in the Sun­ni sub­urbs to the south­west of Kirkuk.

    Let I.S.I.S bleed in those turf wars, down on the plain, its nat­ur­al ter­ri­to­ry. And if it’s ever stu­pid enough to attack the Kurds in the hills, then may it be nice­ly and thor­ough­ly smashed on those rocky hills—plate tec­ton­ics and/or God will­ing.

    As Brech­er points out, I.S.I.S. may not be the over­whelm­ing pow­er that could threat­en the sta­bil­i­ty of the entire region even though it’s a hor­ri­bly mur­der­ous dan­ger to the peo­ple in its path. I.S.I.S.‘s bene­fac­tors, on the oth­er hand, real­ly do threat­en the region.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 24, 2014, 1:42 pm

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