New wars possible, new borders too
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan warned about a sectarian and ethnic-based civil war in Iraq on Nov. 22 and pointed to energy wars as the main motivation behind it. The next day, Iraq’s Shiite-origin Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, sent a strong “Not if you trigger it” reply to Erdoğan, only to be snubbed as “delusional” by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Almost simultaneously, al-Maliki released a photo showing the deployment of Iraqi troops to Tuzhurmatu in order to face Kurds piling up along the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) borders, despite still being part of Iraq on paper.
It is surely about energy resources. There are still untapped oil and natural gas beds in the KRG territory, for which the energy giants of the world - from Exxon and Chevron of the United States to Total of France and Gazprom of Russia (Turkish companies too) - have sealed deals with the KRG President Massoud Barzani in Arbil. Despite the strong protests of al-Maliki in Baghdad and disapproving lip service from Washington, D.C., they are not taking any steps back. Al-Maliki knows that if Kurds manage to sell their oil and gas via NATO member Turkey without interference from Arabs, Russians and Iranians, that would mean a de-facto change in Iraqi borders and sovereignty, if not de jure.
But has there been any conflict in Iraq or generally in the greater Middle East in the last hundred years which was not related to energy interests?
Iraq itself, as a country, is one of the end results of the First World War, an outcome of sharing the oil fields of Mesopotamia and the Basra basin as carved out of the dismantling of the Turkish Empire, thanks to the British Empire. That was the first generation of energy wars in the region.
The second generation was during the 1950-60s. Because of the Balance of Terror between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - the Cold War - it was not in the form of wars between the countries. One exception is Arab countries’ attempts to finish off Israel, which ended with a wider and stronger Israel each time. The rest were in the form of regime changes, civil wars and coup d’etats in countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. That wave came to an end with the big oil crisis of 1973.
The third generation started with the Iran-Iraq war, right after the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and came to an end in 2003 with the fall of Saddam Hussein, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq with the help of the Kurds.
Now there are the pains of a fourth generation dictated by the needs of energy giants to get the marginal benefit of old-world resources before the end of the oil era, which is estimated to come within a few decades.
What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Israel could be part of that, a hundred years after the start of it. Whenever there have been energy fights, there has been either regime or border changes, or both, in this part of the world. And there is no reason to believe that this time it is going to be different.