This was not meant to happen. In the post-invasion planning of Iraq it was meant to be the American and British oil companies that enjoyed the spoils of war and access to the country’s lucrative oil reserves.
But the Kurds keep putting a proverbial spanner in the works. Iraq’s Kurdish leaders adopted a new constitution two weeks ago, a step that has alarmed Bagdad and Washington. And the reason is: oil.
As the New York Times reports today: “The proposed constitution enshrines Kurdish claims to territories and the oil and gas beneath them. But these claims are disputed by both the federal government in Baghdad and ethnic groups on the ground, and were supposed to be resolved in talks begun quietly last month between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, sponsored by the United Nations and backed by the United States.”
The Obama administration is said to be highly troubled by the Kurdish move. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr, has criticized the move calling it “not helpful”. That Diplomatic speak for being a right pain in the backside.
For the new Kurdish constitution to be agreed it has to be put to a referendum to the Kurdish people, probably as early as September. Most expect that the new constitution will be approved, unless Washington and Baghdad can scupper it.
A showdown seems inevitable. Earlier this week the International Crisis Group warned about the escalating conflict between the federal government and the Kurds, along what military circles are referring to as the “trigger line – a curve stretching from the Syrian to the Iranian border”.
Although ethnic tensions are important – it is oil and gas that is at the heart of the dispute. The International Crisis Group has argued that “If the U.S. administration wishes to leave Iraq without being forced either to maintain a significant military presence or, worse, to return after the country disintegrates, it should craft an exit strategy that both encourages and pressures Iraqis to reach a series of political bargains.
The ICC continues: “These deals, as Crisis Group has consistently argued, concern a federal hydrocarbons law, a settlement over Kirkuk and other disputed territories and agreement over the division of powers that jointly would pave the way for consensus on amending the constitution.”
It is interesting that groups such as ICC are arguing for the need for a hydrocarbons law – which many observers believe will be flawed and highly biased in favour of the international oil companies. In that sense, it would nothing to reduce the simmering tension in the region. In fact it would make it worse.