As they prepare to reconvene, Iraq’s parliamentarians face a full and complicated legislative agenda. However, their most urgent task should be to nip in the bud the sinister conspiracies designed to carve Iraq into three or more mini-states.
When that weird idea was first aired a couple of years ago, many saw it as no more than an attempt by some anti-Bush politicians to have something to say on an increasingly unpopular war.
Now, however, the idea has received a measure of official recognition in the United States senate thanks to Senator Joseph Biden, one of the leading candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. With 75 votes for and 23 against, the senate has approved Biden’s attempt at imperial-style redrawing of the map of the Middle East.
But why should Biden and most of his Democrat party colleagues wish to carve-up Iraq?
How could people who claim to be opposed to the Bush administration’s supposedly imperialistic posture take the Sykes-Picot deal as their model?
One can think of at least three reasons.
The first is Biden’s desperate attempt at appearing a serious thinker on geostrategy without having to admit that the US has no choice but to remain on the side of the Iraqi people until they defeat their common enemies.
The second reason is that most of the leading Democrats in the senate, including several presidential candidates, believe that by passing resolutions such as this they could calm down their militant anti-war base. Last year, the Democrats recaptured both houses of the Congress partly thanks to the efforts of well-motivate grassroots organizations who had opposed the liberation of Iraq from the start. A year later, however, the Democrats have failed to have any significant effect on President George W Bush’s strategy in Iraq. To calm the anti-war movement, the Democrats have to say and do something.
The third and perhaps the most important reason, as always in the Middle East, is oil.
The idea of carving Iraq up into three states, which would mean creating an independent Kurdish state in the north, was first launched by a US former diplomat working for the Norwegian oil company DNO. You would not be surprised to learn that the detailed plan for the carve-up, published in the form of a book, came just weeks after DNO signed a contract with the autonomous Kurdish government in Irbil.
You would also not be surprised to learn that at least a dozen of the senators who backed Biden’s carve-up plan have been recipients of campaign contributions from another oil company interested in Iraqi Kurdistan. This one is Hunt Oil, a Texas maverick in the oil business, which cut a deal with the autonomous Kurdish authorities just weeks before Biden made his move.
Also involved in the deal is a Canadian oil company that is already subject of some controversy because of its role in the Sudan, and a small French outfit involved with the Burmese military junta.
When Bush launched the war to topple Saddam Hussein some observers claimed that his real aim was to gain control of Iraq’s oil reserves, the third largest in the world. So far, however, major American oil companies have either stayed away from Iraq or tried to gain a foothold in the Kurdish autonomous territory.
“We were told that the Americans want to steal our oil,” quips a senior Iraqi official.” So far, however, we have trouble persuading them to come to Iraq and do some stealing!”
Over the past two years, the new Iraqi government has negotiated a number of deals with several oil companies from countries across the globe including Japan, China, Korea, India, Algeria and Brazil. The major American oil companies, however, have adopted a wait-and-see attitude pending the passage of a comprehensive law by the Iraqi parliament.
The “carve-up” lobby may think that it is destined to make bundles of money out of easy oil deals with the Kurdish autonomous government that is offering them terms that the central government in Baghdad could not even contemplate.
However, the “carve-up” lobby and its paymasters may burn their fingers. Any oil produced in the landlocked Kurdish autonomous region would have to be exported either through Iraqi itself or via Turkey and Iran. It is certain that the Iraqi central government will not allow foreign companies to operate in part of the national territory without obeying the laws of the country as a whole.
It is also clear that neither Iran, regardless of who rules in Tehran, nor Turkey would allow the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in any part of Iraq. In fact, the passage of Biden’s “care-up” resolution by the US senate immediately triggered the creation of a joint Irano-Turkish security commission to prevent Kurdish secessionism in Iraq. The two neighbors had been discussing the scheme since the 1980s. It took the move by the US senate to force them to clinch the deal. At the same time, Iran closed its border with the autonomous region in Iraqi Kurdistan, threatening it with serious economic problems.
Motivated by petty partisan considerations and crass business calculations, the Biden carve-up plan has already done much damage to hopes of translating the recent security gains in Iraq into lasting political facts.
The plan has increased the risk of Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq, something that neither the US not the still weak Iraqi government would be able to ward-off. It has given the mullahs in Tehran an additional excuse to intervene in Iraq, especially through the Kurdish branch of the Hezballah. The carve-up plan has also encouraged the most radical secessionist elements among Iraqi Kurds, a small but active minority. At the other end of the spectrum, the carve-up plan has given ammunition to those among Arab Iraqis who claim that the Kurds do not deserve any measure of autonomy. Pressure from the opposite ends of Kurdish and Arab chauvinists may weaken, or even break, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s fragile coalition.
Finally, the carve-up pan and the oil deals associated with is already putting a strain on the Kurdish alliance itself, a multiparty concoction that has kept the autonomous region free of violence.
According to good sources, Jalal Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and currently President of Iraq, is opposed to any move that might weaken the central government in Baghdad. However, the Demnocratic Party of Kurdistan of Iraq (KDPI) and its leader, Massoud Barzani, who heads the autonomous region’s government, appear more receptive to the carve-up idea.
Anyone familiar with Iraq would know that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, are opposed to any carve-up. In fact, Biden and his friends would be hard put to find a single Iraqi figure of any significance to endorse their imperialistic exercise. Why should the US turn the majority of Iraqis from friends to foe by proposing to divide their nation against their will?
The US ands its allies came to Iraq with a clear mandate: to remove the tyrannical regime and to allow the Iraqis to build a system of their free choice. Dividing Iraq was never part of the deal.