Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Resource War in Northern Iraq: Oil and the Anglo-American Military Intervention.

".. alongside the humanitarian crisis there is also a political and extremism crisis in Iraq that has a direct effect on us back here in the UK. We do have a fully worked through strategy for helping with allies to deal with this monstrous organisation – the Islamic State."-British Prime Minister David Cameron
The problem with Cameron's lame public diplomacy is that anyone who knows anything about the conflict in northern Iraq and Syria regards with complete contempt the cant about a 'monstrous organisation' and the impact it could have on our streets, a stock justification used for 'staying the course' in the Afghanistan.

It is about time British political leaders stopped treating the British public as some sort of infantile herd that can be fobbed off with condescending precision tooled up soundbites of the sort about  'military prowess', 'the terrorist organisation' and the possibility of 'mayhem in our streets'.

With the spread of the Internet and the 'information revolution', those even remotely interested in what is going on in northern Iraq could quickly discover that the reasons for intervention are not only concerned with saving the Yazidis from being killed by IS or about some more imminent terror threat being now a red alert.

The war in northern Iraq is not a simplistic conflict between forces of good versus evil, though IS is certainly evil and malign. It's a complicated many sided struggle over access to water as well as an ethnic/sectarian war between Kurds and Sunni Arabs over the oil wealth of Kirkuk amongst other things.

Unless the intention of the British involvement is to kill as many IS foot soldiers as possible and take out British born jihadists, then Cameron should refrain from trying to justify the war according to the idea it is primarily about protecting Britain from jihadists. It may actually increase that risk.

Cameron is, no doubt, aware that the cost of military intervention could be to lead to a spike in the threat of terrorism in Britain so he would need to manage risk and expectations by emphasising the ongoing nature of the threat the better to be able justify more intervention in future if attacked.

Britain would be better off tightening up borders and working with Turkey to prevent European jihadists crossing. Security measures are somewhat different to military campaigns to roll back what is, in reality, a potential threat to Iraq's stability and so global oil supplies and prices.

The crisis in Iraq has curtailed the supply of crude oil from OPEC's second largest producer and saw prices surge over $114 a barrel for the first time in nine months back in June 2014. Despite being less dependent on Middle East oil than in 2003, increased oil prices could affact the East Asian economies.

Energy analyst Anthony Cordesman argues "The United States, strategically, is a major trading power. It is particularly dependent on the import of manufactured goods from three countries which are extremely dependent on energy imports. Those happen to be China, South Korea, and Japan."

So while Sunni militants had been encroaching into Iraq months before the US and Britain decided to act, partly because of the Yazidis situation, but more due to the threat to Iraq as the world's 7th largest oil producer and the threat to Erbil and Kurdistan's oil boom regional state.

The Kurdish militias took Kirkuk in June 2014 and the threat to it from IS would set back British Petroleum's plans to reverse declining output at the oilfield discovered in 1927. Providing aid to the KRG could help remove opposition to BP's plans in Kirkuk, aswell as shoring yp the Iraqi government in Baghdad

Britain is among the many global players vying for oil contracts and the right to drill in Kurdish oil fields. The danger of that strategy is it could push Kurdistan further towards independence in a way that could anger Iran whose cooperation even Cameron has belatedly come to regard as essential to defeating IS.

Obama only gave the go-ahead for air strikes as soon as Erbil seemed in striking distance of the oil fields being drilled by Chevron and ExxonMobil. It is the involvement of such global oil majors that has put a strain on the relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan that has helped destabilise Iraq.

Iraq is the cockpit of proxy struggles and resource wars and this vital fact in relation to both it and neighbouring Syria is routinely screened out from mainstream media accounts of the war when energy geopolitics should be getting a lot coverage and integrated into factual accounts of the conflict.

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