The effect of the International interest in Iraq’s northern oil fields upon the future of Kurds in Iraq
Oil and the Future of Kurdistan
In this paper, we aim to provide arguments regarding the oil interests in Iraq, and the way it affects the Kurdish tribes in the northern part of the country. We know how oil is able to transform the future of a country but, is the projected future good for the communities? In this essay, we shall discuss those issues, and provide all the sides of the argument: The American interests; the Iraqi interests, and the Kurdish interests concerning oil in Iraq. Also, we shall examine how oil could change the future of the Kurds. However, to do a thorough examination of the subject, we shall provide a historic background in the Kurdish tribes, and their relations with the United States and the Iraqi government.
History of the Iraqi Kurdistan
The history of the Kurds is a long one. That is why, we shall address the modern history of the Kurdistan, in order to have a broader perspective of the conflict.
Today, the Kurds are about 40 million people, all living in a land called Kurdistan, which means “Country of the Kurds”. However, Kurdistan does not refer to a country, or a state. It refers to a land which in the 20th century was divided into five countries: Turkey; Iran; Iraq; Syria, and the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Soviet part became part of Azerbaijan, and Armenia. (Nevez, 1997). After that repartition of the Kurdistan, Kurds became the largest stateless nation in the world.It is important to note, that unlike the majority of the Iraqi population, Kurds are not Arabic. They are Muslims, but they have a completely different identity and living standards than those of their Arabic neighbors. Iraqi Kurds, demand the separation from the Arab majority, and a greater autonomy in their decisions (Ezgi, 2010).
Relations between the Iraqi and the Kurdish Governments
In the same way, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraqi Kurds have become more oriented toward the full secession of the Kurdistan from Iraq, and since the region is oil-rich, tensions have raised. According to estimates, approximately the 15% of the oil produced in Iraq, comes from Kurdistan, This prosperity have helped the region to develop, but has also created tensions between the central government, and the region’s leaders.That is why, Baghdad regards the activities concerning the energetic independence of the Kurdish state, as illegal, as they could be a precursor to the region’s independence. In the same way, the tensions between the new authoritarian government of the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has increased the tensions between Kurds and Iraqis. Besides, with the arrival of the IS into the conflict, the situation has escalated quickly, and some measures have to be taken to stave the conflict. Concerning the IS, the Kurds have made explicit that they would never accept an Islamic identity in the country, as it would subsume them into the banner of Islam and nullify their cultural differences (Rafaat, 2007). And regarding the possibilities of secession from Iraq, the Kurds see the possibility as their ultimate national goal. That is why, Baghdad regards the activities concerning the energetic
Kurdish Relations with the U.S. Government
In Iraq, the Saddam Hussein’s regime persecuted Kurds, as part of one of his regime’s premises. Saddam’s government even used chemical weapons to destroy Kurdish villages. That is why, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Kurds, and their self-defense forces became one of the closest supporters of the U.S. army in the invasion of Iraq. However, when the American forces departed from Iraq in 2011, they left many unsolved issues relating the country’s governance. One of them, the relations between the central authority in Baghdad, and the Kurdistan Regional Government in the northern part of the country (Park, 2014). Many tensions exist between the Iraqi, and the Kurdistan governments. For instance, there are several territorial disputes between both governments, and the discovery of new oil reserves in the Kurdistan, have raised the stakes. Also, instead of mediating the conflict, the U.S. government have helped the Kurdish government in the pursue of having an independent energy policy from the central government allowing companies such as ExxonMobil, and Chevron to strike deals with the Kurdish government.
Kurdish Position regarding the Oil Issue
To Kurds, the oil riches have brought new prosperity to the region. And since last year, the pipeline that runs from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey have become one of the biggest economic assets of the regions. However, new threats, such as the Islamic State, and the restrictions imposed by the central government have made more difficult the task. The oil-rich region is being heavily contested by the regional, and the central government, which makes the market highly unreliable, and the incentives, low. In the same light, the issue is not only an economic, or a political one, as the Iraqi government cut the payments to the region in 2013, after the agreement the Kurdish government did with Turkey to build a new pipeline that runs from the region to Turkey, without going to Baghdad. The decision of the central government of cutting off the region, it has plunged in a heavy economic crisis, as the regional government has been unable of paying the international firms, their share of the sales. (Williams, 2015).
However, the Iraqi government decision is unconstitutional, as the agreement between the Kurdish Regional Government and the central government was ratified by the constitution, and sanctioned by both parties. The agreement stated that the Kurdish Region was going to receive a 17 percent of the country’s national budget. The percentage is a rough equivalent of the percentage of Kurdish people in Iraq. The agreement also stated that the earnings from the fields in Kurdistan should be transferred to Baghdad. Nevertheless, the agreement has been dotted with disputes, as the central government has not been paying the region’s share, which has caused a deep economic recession in all Kurdistan. Also, since Baghdad has suspended the payments, Erbil, the region’s capital has suspended the crude deliveries(Park, 2014). To stave the region’s economic decay, the Kurdish Government has resorted to send oil trucks at below market prices across its borders to Turkey, and Iran, although this solution cannot serve as a long-term export solution for the region. Also, the companies responsible for extracting the crude are getting increasingly angry, as the regional government is not capable of respond to their demands.
On top of this, there is another important issue to be assessed. The Kurdish Government is highly dependent of Baghdad’s revenues to keep subsisting. Other factions of the Iraqi government resent the newfound importance of the Kurds, and could force the central government on moving toward the issue, retiring the share Kurds receive from oil revenues. In that way, the Kurds are already receiving way less of the promised 17 percent. The real share is calculated around the 10 percent. This is way less than the amount needed for Kurds to survive, but even in the worst of the circumstances, the Kurds would not step down from their pleas of autonomy.
Iraqi Government Position regarding the Oil Issue
To Iraq, Kurds have become a game-changing part in the geopolitical game. After all the wars, and uprisings that have occurred in Iraq over the past 20 years, the country’s pipeline system is nearly destroyed and works far below its capacity, that is why the oil in the Kurdistan plays a pivotal role in the Iraqi economy. In that light, it is understandable that the Iraqi central Government wants to wreck the possibilities of the Kurdish Regional governments of extracting, and exporting oil illegally. This situation has become a sore thumb in the geopolitical scheme, with many countries trying to intervene in order to get the biggest share possible, regardless of the tensions between Iraq and Kurdistan. On the other hand, Kurdistan economic success has instilled fear in the Iraqi politicians, who consider that the Kurdistan could step forward in their claims of independence, and start a full on conflict in the region (Foreman, 2014).
Nevertheless, both parties caved into the pressures and signed an agreement that will resume the Kurdistan oil exportation. This agreement could mean the end of a conflict between both Kurds and Iraqis over the region’s oil. It is likely that the agreement was signed on the grounds of presenting a united front against the IS. Iraq’s new Prime Minister, a Shiite politician who wants to rebuild the country, and tend bridges over the destroyed country, considers that the only way to defeat the IS, and rebuild the country, is through the understanding of both Kurds, and Iraqis, and if both can benefit equally from the oil revenues, it is a victory for the country, rather than a victory for an ethnicity
U.S. Government Position regarding the Oil Issue
On the oil issue, and Kurdistan’s politics, the U.S. government has advised the American energy companies that they should clear any agreements with the central government before going to the Kurdistan Regional Government. To the U.S. such backhanded agreements are illegal, but the country cannot directly interfere with the commercial decisions taken by the oil companies (Park, 2014). In the same way, the U.S. have maintained conversations with the Turkish government as a way to curb the illegal oil exportation to that country. In a strict sense, to receive oil from the Iraqi Kurdistan, would be contravening one of the Turkish policies of non-recognition to the Kurdish Regional Government. However, in economic terms, it is impossible for the Turkish government, or the U.S. oil companies to ignore the vast energetic reserves on the Kurdistan territory. However, to Obama’s administration Iraq is not one of the biggest concerns, in that way, despite the country’s approach to Iraq, and its issues, they have been letting it sort its own destiny, without further help or interference. As long as the Iraqi policies favor the U.S. interests, the country will not object any of the decisions taken by Baghdad. Also, to the U.S., Kurds already achieved more they could have asked for, and that since independence was not projected in the original picture, it should not be an option. Nevertheless, the actual pressures regarding the fight against terrorism, specifically against the IS, have turned the Kurds self-defense forces, the Peshmerga into a valuable asset in the fight. We do not know if the U.S. government would collaborate with the Kurdish independence, but it looks like the country would try to keep the statu quo, and help both parties the best it can.
The Future of Kurdistan in Relation with the Oil Revenues
As we all know, oil is an extremely valuable resource, and its transforming capacity it is not only linked to its many uses. It also means wealth, and wealth, if used wisely can become progress. That is the promised oil has made in Kurdistan. On one hand, it could turn the region in one of the main engines of Iraq’s economic revival, and on the other, it could be the fuel that Kurdistan needs to claim its longed independence. The first scenario could mean that using the oil revenues, the country will be able to repel and defeat the IS, and finally achieve peace, in a country that has been torn by war since its formation. The second scenario could mean that the Kurds are going to reclaim their independence, and use the oil to reshape their country to their satisfaction. However, this does not seem like the right moment to do so. With bigger enemies at their gates, both Kurds and Iraqis should think wisely which their next move will be. What can be seen from the first glance is that oil has played a beneficial role in Kurdistan’s economy, and social issues, as the world’s eyes are now in the region. We can only expect that despite the issues such as corruption; and nepotism, the region uses its resources wisely, to truly turn the tide, and fulfill their manifest destiny.
Ezgi, D., & Chandra, K. (2009). Making secession possible: Federalism as a capacity building instrument.
Foreman, J. (2014, July 10). Building the U.S.-Kurdistan Special Relationship. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-u-s-should-guarantee-kurdish-independence-1405020652
Park, B. (2014). Turkey-Kurdish regional government relations after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq: Putting the Kurds on the map? Army War College.
Rafaat, A. (2007). An Independent Kurdish State: Achievable or Merely a Kurdish Dream? Retrieved from http://www.jspes.org/Sample_Rafaat.pdf
Williams, S., & Kent, S. (2015, February 8). Oil Earnings From Kurdistan Prove Elusive. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-oil-earnings-from-kurdistan-are-so-elusive-1423442505
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