Oil’s Divisive Influence in Iraq
It has long been speculated that oil can be a driver for civil conflict, and one needs to look no further for evidence than the sectarian power politics that is threatening the possible devolution of the Iraqi state.
The recent announcement by the Maliki government that Iraq is seeking to build a 1 million b/d pipeline to Aqaba, Jordan, is not, as it is being painted, evidence that Iraq is seeking to boost its economic building efforts. More skeptical observers have an alternative explanation. They see the Aqaba pipeline plan as a geopolitical hedge. The pipeline announcement is being explained privately to investors and suppliers as a veiled attempt by the Maliki government to have a back-up plan to get oil exports out of the country, should navigation via the Persian Gulf get blocked.
The renewed Iraqi oil-related courtship of Jordan could well be interpreted as an acknowledgement that the long term situation across the region might get increasingly messy, with dire consequences for normal export patterns. In a devolving Iraq, Maliki’s new pipeline effort could be viewed as an admission that relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on the one hand, and Turkey on the other, are so bad that the option to move crude oil produced in Southern Iraq via pipeline to Turkey is not only impossible right now, it may, in fact, disappear permanently. The announcement follows similar efforts by the KRG to forge an independent natural gas export pipeline plan with Turkey, as well as reports that oil is being trucked to Turkey from the KRG without state Iraqi oil marketing firm SOMO’s participation. The Syrian conflict and accompanying deteriorating personal relations between Maliki and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan are changing the map for possible future export flows, and the Jordanian negotiations must be taken in that context.
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