Archive for Kurdistan

Happy Holidays from Baghdad!

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Troop Levels, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2011 by whatafteriraq

Depressingly, it has not taken long for things to begin to show signs of unravelling in Iraq. Less than a week after the last American combat vehicle passed the frontier into Kuwait, the first crisis has emerged. It is no surprise that things are coming undone, of course; this blog has been part of a chorus for some time arguing that things would turn bad in that country after the United States and regardless of when the United States leaves. The only surprise is how fast the fissures have reopened; one would have hoped the partisans would at least have waited until after the eggnog was drunk and the presents under the tree opened. But that clearly was not meant to be.

The source of the fissure has been the newest dispute between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s regime and the highest elected Sunni in the country,Tariq al-Hashemi, head of the al-Iraqiya party. The focus of the dispute is Shiite accusations that Hashemi and his associates engineered the murders of numerous Shiites, a charge that Hashemi says are both false and politically motivated, arguing that in making these accusations Maliki “pushes things in the direction of no return.” Not trusting the police and courts in Baghdad, Hashemi has taken refuge in Kurdistan, which has offered him effective asylum and which he uses as a platform from which to excoriate the Maliki government. His basic argument is that the charges are politically motivated, untrue, and that he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad with its pro-Shiite, pro-Maliki courts that do not, in his words, offer adequate “transparency.”

This dispute highlights two of the most basic sources of division in Iraq that many of us have argued since before the 2003 invasion provided more than adequate reason not to invade in the first place. The heart of the disagreement is an entirely predictable confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites, the basic religious divide in Islam. The net effect of 8 1/2 years of American involvement in Iraq has been to shift power from a tyrannical Sunni dictator to what is increasingly looking like a Shiite dictator–an absolutely predictable outcome of our insistence on one-man,one-vote “democracy” is a country that is over 60 percent Shiite. Now that whatever restraint our presence had on the competition has been removed, the Sunnis and Shiites are fighting again. What a surprise!

The other dimension is territorial, the division between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq along ethnic and territorial lines. Although supporters of the war were always loath to admit it, Iraqi Kurdistan has been a de facto independent states for several years now, with very little Baghdad jurisdiction over what goes on there. The fact that Hashemi would seek refuge in Kurdistan and that the government would feel the need to negotiate about the Kurds turning him over rather than simply arresting him in what is, after all, officially part of Iraq tells you everything you need to know about the territorial integrity of the country. Until some agreement is reached on the division of oil revenues in the country, this status quo will continue. It is probably true that the only reason Kurdistan has not declared formal independence is strong opposition from surrounding countries with contiguous Kurdish minorities who would probably move to join such a state. Turkey, with the area’s largest and most formidable armed forces heads the lists of opponents which could, unlike the government in Baghdad, establish its sway over the Kurdish region if adequately incited to do so.

All this is playing out without great notice in the United States. The crisis emerging over the holiday season probably explains part of this–as most of us are more concerned about old Saint Nick than we are about Iraq. Indeed, the Obama administration may have made sure all the troops were out before Christmas because it knew things would blow up and wanted that to occur when we were not paying attention.

The only American politician who seems to have noticed is John McCain, whose response has been entirely predictable, arguing that the fault lies with the Obama administration for removing all the troops when it did. His argument, which he seems to apply most everywhere, is that if we kept a military presence in Iraq, it would not be blowing up today. The same argument was used in Vietnam, but misses the point that regardless of how long we stay, the divisions are going to remain and will boil over whenever our departure occurs. The Iraqis, on the other hand, realize that now that we are gone, we are not coming back, so they can revert to form.

Anyone who can make a straight line projection of the current dust up to the final outcome in Iraq has either been drinking too much eggnog or eggnog spiked with illegal substances. The current brouhaha is, more likely, simply the opening chorus of a much longer and more traumatic outcome, the exact nature of which is impossible to predict. What is safe to suggest is that it will not work out the way that George Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al. predicted back in the early summer of 2003.

Merry Baghdad to all, and to all a good night!

A Black Cloud over Baghdad

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting Into Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Internal Violence in Iraq, Iraqi Oil with tags , , , on January 9, 2011 by whatafteriraq

We have now–finally!–entered the last year of American military involvement in Iraq. As the months proceed toward the removal of the last U.S. forces by year’s end, one can expect to hear a great deal of justification of the war that began when George W. Bush ordered a full-scale invasion of that country in 2003. Those rationalizations will be essentially that, because any hard look at what has happened, and what is likely to happen, in Iraq after we finally depart can only maintain straightfacedly that we have accomplished exceptionally little at extraordinarily large costs.

A couple of particularly black clouds crossed the radar in the United States last week that bode very poorly for the prospect on a positive American footprint at the end of the adventure. In Baghdad, our good friend, Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Malaki (as quoted in the Perspectives section of Newsweek) bid us a fare-no-so-well, stating of the withdrawal, “This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.” In other words, “don’t let the doorknob hit you in the a**hole on your way out.” So much for the gratitude that the neo-conservatives assured us that the Iraqis would have for our “help.”

The second, and blacker, bit of news was the return of Muktada al-Sadr from his self-imposed exile in Iran. Al-Sadr, to put it mildly, is no friend of the United States, and his return bodes very poorly for the political tenor of Iraq toward the United States and U.S. interests post-occupation. For one thing, the Sadr army has been among the most violent opponents of the U.S. occupation (they have fought us at least twice), and al-Sadr’s political supporters have the second most seats of any party in the  Iraqi parliament, where their support has allowed al-Maliki to secure his majority. It is, of course, highly unlikely that al-Sadr ever talked politics with members of the Iranian government during his exile, but this still does not heighten the prospects of warm, congenial, and mutually supportive U.S.-Iraqi relations in the future, particularly with regard to Iran.

These events should not come as much of a surprise to anyone. It has become virtually conventional wisdom that the major geopolitical effect of the U.S. military action in Iraq has been to hand Iran a major geostrategic prize it could not achieve on its own when faced with a Sunni-dominated Iraq: primary political influence over its major Arab Sunni opponents in the region. The Arab states understand that their position vis-a-vis the Iranians has been materially compromised by George Bush’s war, which, among other things, helps amplify their horror over Iranian nuclear weapons development. If you are an Arab, your security is far less firm than it was before the invasion, and although you may not have liked Saddam Hussein very well–who could?–at least he kept the crazy Shiite Persians off your front doorstep. The Americans, in effect, have put them back in that position. Thanks, Dubya!

These events also help prejudice the post-occupation ethnic politics of Iraq in ways that do not favor American interests. When the major pinheads who planned the war (Paul Wolfowitz, et. al.) decided that a western-style democracy was just what Iraq needed, they seemed to ignore the obvious implication that this would be run by Shiites whose motives toward other religious and ethnic groups were no more benign that that of the Sunnis that our “idealism” would displace. The return of al-Sadr as a major prop for al-Maliki means the Shiite motive for revenge is going to be intensified, and we will not be there to get in the way. Although post-American internal instability in the country was pretty much a given under any circumstances, this can only make it worse. 

The rubber will hit the road over Kurdistan, where the United States has and will retain what few interests it ever had in Iraq. For one thing, the Kurds are the only group in Iraq that actually like us, largely because they think we will protect their autonomy (given the casualness with which we have turned on the Kurds in the past, why is not clear) in post-occupation Iraq. More objectively, the United States wants access to Kurdish oil (about half of Iraq’s reserves), and if we don’t get it, we will leave Iraq with absolutely nothing to show for our sacrifice. Concessions for the other half of Iraqi oil in Shiite areas, after all, was held last year, and the U.S. came out of that without a drop of oil. If the Shiites dominate the discussions of what happens to the Kurdish oil, the result could be the same. Should that be the case, we will be left holding the bag, and it will not be a sack with no appreciable oil stains on it.

If the reader happens to be (which he/she almost certainly is not) an Iraqi Shiite, this analysis is the cause of joy, not concern, and the black cloud analogy does not much hold. Rather, the final, irrevocable removal of the Americans lifts, not imposes the cloud. Rather, maybe it is more appropriate to say the black cloud has descended over Washington (where, in a deadlocked Congress, the Democrats will declare it is black, the GOP will equally declare it is white, and they will be unable to agree on a shade of gray). Or maybe the cloud will descend in the tony neighborhood in Dallas where the Chief Decider decided that invading Iraq was a good idea in the first place.

Iraqi Oil Contracts

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq War with tags , , , , , on December 15, 2009 by whatafteriraq

The announcement last week that the Iraqi government had awarded foreign contracts for the exploitation of a number of its oil fields created a remarkably mild, one-day reaction in the popular press. The gist of the awards, of course, was that virtually everybody, from the Russians and Chinese to the Malaysians and Angolans, were given contracts on one field or another, while American companies were essentially left holding the bag, with participation in a couple of relatively minor deals. This is not how this aspect of the Iraq war was supposed to work out, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lame comment that it shows private enterprise is alive and well in Baghdad did little to assuage those who expected more for Uncle Sam.

Two not especially complimentary explanations have snuck forward into the public dialogue. One is that the Iraqi government of al-Maliki is simply snubbing its nose at the Americans and showing that if we expected any gratitude for invading, conquering, occupying, dismantling, then putting back together Iraq six and a half years after the fact, we can forget it. The other is that it shows the failure of what some believe to have been the primary underlying motivation for invading Iraq in the first place, which was to gain control–or at least influence–over Iraqi oil reserves for the future. The book after which this blog is named is among the places where this argument can be found. Defenders of the war even argue this demonstrates that oil was not the motive in the first place, or we would not be standing by so docilely as the Iraqis sell it to other people.

Does this prove that the United States has lost out? As someone who has believed all along that the war was all about oil, my answer is that it does not. The reason for this assertion is not that the United States failed to get in on the deals let; it is that the oil in which the United States is most interested is NOT the oil that was part of the deals. If anything, the pattern of dealing suggests a more sinister underpinning that has always been there, slightly below the surface.

The key here is the location of the oil. About half of Iraq’s oil is located in the south and southeast of Iraq, in the Shiite areas such as Rumalia, Majnoon,and Halfaya, and the other half is in Kurdistan in the north. The southern fields, because they are in Shiite territory, have never been the prize for Americans; it is the Kurdish fields that American oil companies and the government have coveted. The contracts were let on almost exclusively Shiite fields in the south and southeast where the American claim is weakest, as is likely American influence after we leave. The down side is that this is the oil easiest to access and get to market, whereas Kurdish oil is more remote and has less infrastructure supporting it. Kurdistan, however, is the part of Iraq where American interest and prestige is highest, and it is by no means beyond the range of possibilities that the eventual outcome of Iraq will be a bifurcated country with a wholly or largely independent Kurdistan. Such a country would almost certainly be friendlier to the United States than the rest of Iraq.

One major artifact of the war, after all, has been to encourage Kurdish autonomy that has some of the trappings of independence, and the United States bears no small amount of responsibility for that occurrence. Iraqi Shiites may feel no comraderie with the Americans and may revel in thumbing their noses at the United States; the Kurds, on the other hand, have every reason to be grateful to the United States.

One scenario to watch involves the letting of Kurdish oil fields somewhere down the road. The current reason not to do so is because the Kurdish region is volatile and unstable, which means the Kurdistan question has not been entirely resolved–will the fields be part of Iraq or Kurdistan? The brouhaha over electoral laws has this as an aspect–who wins that battle will be able to influence where oil revenues go and in what proportions, to Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. The Kurdish ace in the hole is secession.

If it comes down to Kurdish separatism, would the United States consider a deal whereby we support the establishment of a de facto or de jure Kurdistan in return for oil contracts there? It is by no means idle to think this could occur. Another way to look at last week’s blanking of the United States in the competition for southern oil fields is that we did not really compete, because that was not our objective anyway–Kurdistan was. Dick Cheney was  certainly capable of thinking about the situation in those terms (and probably did); will the Obama administration feel the same way?