Special Report

Let’s Buy That Kurdish Oil

The State Department puts the kibosh on a persecuted minority.

By 8.1.14

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There’s a situation going on down in Texas right now that deserves everyone’s attention, even though it hasn’t received much notice in the press.

The Kurds are a gritty minority in the Middle East, surviving in a barren swathe of land across northern Iraq and eastern Turkey. They are Muslims but not too fanatical about their religion. They don’t practice much polygamy — the driving force in Muslim aggression — and only want to govern themselves. You won’t find any Kurdish terrorists hijacking planes or blowing themselves up on crowded subways around the world.

As a minority in both Iraq and Turkey, however, they have been subject to endless persecution. Saddam Hussein tried to exterminate them and the Turks have long harassed them for their desires for autonomy.

They were the big winners in the Iraq Invasion, however. Freed from the yoke of Saddam Hussein, they quickly established their own autonomous region, set up their own government, and have proved more than capable of governing themselves. They have a military force that is second to none. When ISIS burst out of Syria into northern Iraq, they quickly gave up the idea of confronting the Kurds and decided to go after Baghdad’s paper army instead. The Iraqi forces melted away while the Kurds have actually taken the opportunity to expand their holdings by seizing the oil city of Kirkuk. Claiming Iraq’s northern oil fields, they now have plenty of oil to sell.

But where to sell it, that has been the problem. The Shiite-dominated Baghdad government has demanded that the Kurds sell their oil through them, claiming all the royalties and leaving the Kurds only a small stipend in the process. But the Kurds refused and resourcefully built their own pipeline west through Turkey to the port of Ceyhan. The work was completed in May and the Kurds recently loaded their first tanker with $100 million of oil.

That’s when the trouble began. Because of a set of prohibitions and sanctions set up by our State Department, most of the oil-importing countries of the world have refused to buy the Kurdish cargo. The idea is we’re supposed to be propping up the Maliki government in its effort to make Iraq a unified country. But Baghdad itself isn’t doing a very good job, kicking the Sunnis out of the administration, leaving itself open to the Sunni-dominated ISIS invasion, and turning to Iran when it needs help. Once again the resourceful Kurds are a persecuted minority being exploited for their ambitious efforts.

So the Kurdish tanker became a Flying Dutchman, circling the globe in search of a friendly port to buy its oil. For a while it looked as if Italy might take it but the State Department prevented that. And so this week the Flying Dutchman ended up anchored off the Port of Galveston with the possibility that Texas’s thriving, bustling, free-enterprise-loving economy might cycle it into its ample refinery network.

But no, international politics has intervened once again. Iraq has sued, calling the oil “stolen” and Texas Judge Nancy Johnson agreed, not only blockading the sale of the cargo but demanding that it be seized as stolen property.

Well, that didn’t last long. Another ruling has determined that the tanker is anchored outside U.S. territorial limits and thus beyond the court’s jurisdiction. Still, in a world thirsting for oil, the Kurds remain unable to unload their precious cargo and give their fragile economy the boost it needs to survive.

Why is it we always end up supporting these puppet regimes? From the Kuomintang to South Vietnam to Iraq we always seem to end up backing some dispirited paper army while the opposition is highly motivated and full of purpose. (True, it may be W. B Yeats’ “the worst are full of passionate intensity,” but it is intensity.)

Before the Iraq Invasion, there was a huge vogue about the Kurds among the American left. They were an abused minority and worthy of their attention. (Perhaps awarded “refugee” status so they can come to America and vote Democratic?) But once George Bush liberated the Kurds, the left lost interest. (“We didn’t mean THAT kind of liberation!”) The Kurds no longer have that damsel-in-distress appeal.

Yet now that the Kurds have proved they are capable of organizing and supporting themselves, Republicans have shown no interest in them. What are we waiting for? Why doesn’t someone in Congress pick up the cause, pass an emergency measure saying we can buy that Kurdish oil and give a proud and independent people a fighting chance?

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About the Author
William Tucker is news editor for RealClearEnergy.org.