Thursday, August 28, 2014

How Oil Rules Iraq

There is an oil tanker the size of four football fields representing the full measure of Kurdistan’s independence. And it’s sitting off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

This tanker is just one thread in the emerging story of Iraq’s tumultuous evolution, and oil’s commanding role in it. During the war, critics liked to say “it’s all about the oil,” but that is now truer than ever before. Kurdish sovereignty depends on it. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fueled by it. And all through the violence and political crises of the last summer, the oil has continued to pump, keeping a fragile central government one step from implosion.

“Oil is the central facilitator of all the actors’ ambitions—it is how the Kurds hope to obtain eventual independence, how ISIS can finance the much larger organization it has become, and how the Iraqi state stays afloat,” said Steve LeVine, an energy expert and Future Tense fellow at the New America Foundation, in an interview with TAC.

“Absent oil, we would have a very different situation.”

Kurds Go to Court

The giant tanker United Kalavrvta is carrying 100 million barrels of crude oil pumped in Kurdistan and destined for LyondellBasell Industries, a Dutch-owned company in Texas. It has been anchored off the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico for a month. This week, a federal judge in Texas threw out a seizure order that could have drawn U.S. marshals into the protracted dispute over who owns the oil—Kurdistan or the central government in Baghdad.