Tag Archives: Kurdistan

The CIA in the New Kurdistan

ebril internatioal airport

Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Erbil/Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 10, 2014 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are U.S. drones taking off and landing at the facility.  Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split — complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State…

The peshmerga Kurds has worked closely over the years with the CIA, U.S. Special Forces and the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s most secretive task force, which has become a bulwark of counterterrorism operations. Peshmerga forces already are staffing checkpoints and bunkers to protect the CIA station, which sits a few hundred yards from the highway.

“Within a week of the fall of Mosul we were being told to double or even triple our capacities,” said one Western logistics contractor who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’d signed nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government on the matter.  “They needed everything from warehouse space to refrigeration capacity, because they operate under a different logistics command than the normal military or embassy structures,” the contractor said. “The expansion was aggressive and immediate.”…The local Kurdish intelligence official described what was taking place as a “long-term relationship with the Americans.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said July 3, 2014 that Irbil would host such a center, in addition to one being set up in Baghdad, and suggested it had already begun operating. “We have personnel on the ground in Irbil, where our second joint operations center has achieved initial operating capability,” he said then.

The Kurdish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s no secret that the American special forces and CIA have a close relationship with the peshmerga.” He added that the facility had operated even “after the Americans were forced out of Iraq by al-Maliki,” a reference to the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal after the Obama administration and the Iraqi government couldn’t agree on a framework for U.S. forces to remain in the country.

The official refused to directly identify the location of the facility but when he was shown the blurred-out location on an online satellite-mapping service he joked: “The peshmerga do not have the influence to make Google blur an area on these maps. I will leave the rest to your conclusions.

Expansion of ‘secret’ CIA post suggests closer U.S.-Kurd ties, Seattle Times, July 11, 2014

How to Build an Independent State: Kurdistan

Large oil field near the city of Kirkuk

Kurdish peshmerga forces are said to have seized control of production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oil fields in the north of the country.Kurdish MPs have also withdrawn from Iraq’s central government.  They did so after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki accused the Kurds of harbouring extremists.  Kurdish forces have moved into areas of north-western Iraq abandoned by the Iraqi army during the advance of Islamist insurgents led by the Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) group over the past month…

The Kurds have since declared plans to hold a referendum on independence in the areas seized, escalating tensions with Iraq’s central authorities.  In a statement on Friday, the Iraqi oil ministry condemned the seizure of oil refineries, adding that they expected Kurdish fighters to “support security forces in confronting terrorist groups rather than using the conditions to raid and occupy oil fields”.  Reuters news agency said a senior source within the Kurdistan Regional Government had confirmed the takeover.

The unnamed source said they had been “forced to act to protect Iraq’s infrastructure after learning of attempts by Iraq oil ministry officials to sabotage it”….The two oilfields are said to have a combined daily output capacity of some 400,000 barrels per day, AFP quotes a ministry spokesman as saying.

The Kurdish minority in Iraq managed to establish an autonomous region in the north in 2005 after decades of political and military efforts to seek self-rule…Leader of the Kurdish region of Iraq Massoud Barzani: “The goal of Kurdistan is independence”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, who is himself a Kurdish politician, told Reuters news agency on Friday that the Kurdish political bloc had suspended all day-to-day government business after Mr Maliki’s remarks.  He said the country risked division if an inclusive government was not formed soon, adding: “The country is now divided literally into three states – Kurdish, a black state [Isis] and Baghdad.”

Iraq conflict: Kurds seize two oilfields in north, BBC, Juy 12, 2014

An Independent Kurdistan? Ask the Oil Companies

Iraq is blessed with abundant oil that is cheap to extract and close to newly built export terminals. Production has hit a three-decade high and continues to rise steadily. By 2035, predicts the International Energy Agency (IEA) Iraqi output could more than double, to 8.3m barrels per day (b/d).  But Western oil firms are increasingly reluctant to play a part in this boom. ExxonMobil appears keen to sell its stake in West Qurna, one of the giant fields in southern Iraq that will provide much of the production growth. Royal Dutch Shell and BP are both still working in the south, but unhappily so. Suffocating bureaucracy and onerous contract terms make life difficult. Heavier-than-expected costs and delays to infrastructure undercut profits.

Three years ago when they signed contracts with the Iraqi government, the oil majors were prepared to accept hiccups. But their patience has thinned with the arrival of an alternative source of Iraqi oil. Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous province in the country’s north, has been offering competing and much more lucrative deals. ExxonMobil’s decision last year to acquire six blocks in the region angered the central government, which considers the deal illegal and lays claim to Kurdish oil. But the world’s largest oil company started a trend. In July Total, Chevron and Gazprom all signed contracts with the Kurdistan regional government, potentially dooming their chances of winning future business in the south. BG, a British firm, was in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, on a scouting mission in late October.

“Kurdistan is 11 years ahead of the rest of Iraq in terms of political and commercial development,” says Luay al-Khatteeb, head of the Iraq Energy Institute, a London-based think-tank. Kurdistan’s potential oil reserves of around 45 billion barrels are less than a third of those in southern Iraq. Still, the Kurdish oil minister, Ashti Hawrami, believes output of 1m b/d is possible within three years.

The tricky part is getting the oil to market. The Kurds today export around 200,000 b/d through pipelines controlled by the central government. Mr Hawrami wants to build a new Kurdish-owned pipe to Turkey, feeding long-held dreams of Kurdish independence. That unnerves Turkey which is fighting Kurdish separatists in its south-east. Some Turkish officials seem to acknowledge the possibility of an eventual Kurdish state in northern Iraq and seek to make it commercially dependent on Turkey. Co-operating with the Iraqi Kurds would also generate lucrative transit fees and offer Turkey an alternative to oil from Russia and Iran.

The Iraqi government is pondering how to respond. It could sweeten the terms of its contracts with the oil firms in the south. That might staunch the flow of Western capital to Kurdistan. In the meantime, the main beneficiaries of the majors’ receding interest in southern Iraq are Asian oil firms. Chinese will account for about 2m b/d of Iraq’s production by 2020. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, talks of a “Baghdad-to-Beijing” axis.

Iraq’s oil: The Kurdish opening, Economist,Nov. 3, at 49