How to avoid another oil war in Iraq?
The United States clarified its position on Wednesday regarding Iraqi energy resources and urged both the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government in the north to reach an agreement, as tension between the two factions continues to rise. The statement by Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, came just one day after the “we are ready to fight” challenge from Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), after he inspected his troops near the disputed city of Kirkuk.
The stance of the U.S. had became a matter of intrigue following an oil and gas conference last week in Arbil, the location of the KRG’s headquarters, with the active participation of U.S.-based energy giants Chevron and Exxon and a number of other key players such as Russian Gazprom and French Total. The conference took place despite the reaction shown by the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız had wanted to attend the conference but was denied permission to fly by al-Maliki on Dec. 4, so had to turn back. “There are investments in the KRG region from 19 countries of the world,” Yıldız had told the Hürriyet Daily News at the time. As a country neighboring Iraq, Turkey cannot be an exemption, he said.
The stakes are high. Estimates claim that there are some 45 billion barrels of oil and 3.5 trillion cubic meters of gas waiting to be unearthed in KRG fields. The presence of big U.S. companies in the Kurdish region, despite the complaints of U.S. (and Iran)-backed al-Maliki, had confused minds.
In a way, Nuland’s statement aimed to clarify the U.S. position and to sooth the tension over energy resources. “This is our longstanding position,” she said. “We are continuing to urge the Iraqi government and the regional administration in Iraq’s north to reach an agreement over legislation so that they can enhance investment so that everybody knows what the fair legal basis is for this.”
When asked about Turkey’s current and possible ventures in the KRG region, Nuland called on “neighboring states” to “similarly avoid any action or comment that could contribute in any way to increasing tensions.”
Is Turkey the only party in this conflict, a conflict that has the potential to set the whole region ablaze? No, it isn’t. It is only a belated party in the game because of its chronic Kurdish problem. Is there any reference in Nuland’s statement regarding the stance of the big U.S. energy companies there, which are the main players? No, there isn’t. When anyone asks, they always get the cliche saying: “the U.S. government doesn’t intervene in company affairs.” This might be true, but it falls short in giving a satisfactory explanation for the situation. Is this statement only lip service to sooth down al-Maliki? Even that is doubtful.
A similar impasse had been in the region almost a century ago, just before the First World War. A farcical repetition of an oil war in Iraq might again cause changes in governments, regimes, and even borders in the region, with even more bloodshed than the first one.