According to the Kurdistan Region’s Presidential
Chief of Staff Fuad Hussein, the visit to the Iraqi capital by a Kurdish
delegation that signed a key oil agreement with Baghdad last week, was
made “upon a suggestion from the US embassy in Iraq.”
months of disputes and two years after Baghdad stopped the Kurdistan
Regional Government’s (KRG) 17 percent share of the national budget,
last week the two governments managed to agree on a deal to jointly
export oil from Kirkuk.
The deal is important financially. But it
also grants a glimpse into the extent of US influence over both Baghdad
and Erbil, and the timing of Washington’s intervention to ensure the
deal took place.
The question that begs an answer is, why now?
likely factor is the looming battle to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s
second-largest city and the Islamic State’s (ISIS) stronghold in Iraq
for more than two years. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has
promised to recapture Mosul from ISIS before the end of this year.
all accounts, the battle will be fought jointly with Kurdish Peshmerga
forces, the Iraqi Army and the US-led Coalition forces.
(oil) deal is in a sense all about Mosul, and probably wouldn’t have
happened without the Iraqi Army reaching its new staging ground near
Qayyarah,” Patrick Osgood, the Kurdistan Bureau Chief of the Iraq Oil
Report, told Rudaw English.
“The US is absolutely central to the
fight against ISIS on all sides, and all sides know it, and so this has
given them renewed leverage over oil matters,” he said.
there’s some mutually understood crossover between what’s good
economically – especially since the US is providing substantial support
to both sides – and what’s good in the anti-ISIS campaign,” he added.
Washington’s looming hand behind the deal, Osgood doubts that the
parameters of the accord were worked out for Baghdad and Erbil by the
“I very much doubt that the US was proposing specifics, but
instead think the line here was as simple as ‘this is ridiculous, you’re
wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.’ And the parties worked out
this very simple deal limited to Kirkuk crude. Also, of course, the KRG
is desperate for revenue,” he reasoned.
engagement “was a key part of securing the resumption of Kirkuk oil
flows into the KRG’s export system,” after months of officials in both
Baghdad and Erbil “constantly emphasizing the wastefulness of the prior
re-injection ever since the shut-off in March.”
The visit of
Brett McGurk, the US president’ special envoy to the American-led
coalition against ISIS, and his meeting with the Kurdistan Region’s
President Masoud Barzani and Iraq’s National Security advisor Faleh
al-Fayyad in mid-August, was really “what pushed this deal forward,”
But he also thinks it is important to note that the deal is temporary and “is not yet being fully implemented.”
influence is finite,” he explained, “which was amply demonstrated when
Vice President (Joseph) Biden visited and gave a glowing endorsement of
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi the day before protesters stormed the Green
“The US has tried to push forward a broader energy
sharing agreement between the KRG and Kirkuk that has stalled out for
what looks like fairly piddling local political reasons, even after
Baghdad seems to have given it the nod,” he said.
though the US managed to broker this short-term arrangement there is
still “a massive gap between what the US can broker in the short-term
and its ability to help resolve fundamental questions over oil
sovereignty,” despite the fact “it is nearing the peak of its
re-engagement in Iraq,” he said.
Dr. Mahmoud Othman, a veteran
Kurdish politician and former MP in the Iraqi parliament, has a
different outlook on last week’s oil agreement.
“The Kurds have
never said ‘No’ to America, and because of that we have suffered
damages. My concern is that even after ISIS is defeated the Americans
may ask us to withdraw from those areas where we presently are now,” he
told Rudaw English, alluding to the so-called disputed territories the
Kurdish Peshmerga liberated from ISIS in Nineveh Province.
have listened and followed US suggestions many times without any good
result,” he said. “And as the third party Americans are not neutral,
they take sides but with Baghdad not us; even in other countries in the
region they are more with the central governments, such as Turkey and
Othman says that while in the Pentagon “there are many
friends of the Kurds” ultimately the State Department influences US
policy and they, he says, are “under Arab and Turkish influence.”
Disunity among the Kurds themselves, Othman says, is another factor.
one time the Kurdish delegation has visited the US as a group
represented by all parties and in the recent visit to Baghdad the Kurds
weren’t united either; they sent separate delegations,” he explained.
Qurbani, a political analyst and observer, believes that now the US
realizes “that this time the Kurds are serious about a referendum on
independence,” they are seeking to create conditions which will leave
the Kurds with “no excuse to break away from Iraq.”
“The US aim
is to prevent Kurdish independence, and whatever pretext they have, like
war with ISIS, they want Iraq to stay as a unified country,” Qurbani
told Rudaw English.
But, he added, the US is also “putting pressure on Baghdad as well to compromise with the KRG.”
recent oil deal between Baghdad and the KRG saw Baghdad agreeing that
the KRG can continue exporting Kirkuk oil that is under their control, a
significant concession on their part.
Qurbani shares Othman’s view that Kurdish divisions are also a part of the problem.
Kurdish leadership isn’t united and they have no shared vision toward
Baghdad and other issues, including self-determination,” he said.
now on, I think the US will increase pressure on Baghdad to compromise
with the KRG,” he added, reasoning that this will lessen KRG incentive
to break from Iraq and become independent.