Leslie Gelb, the former president of the council on Foreign Relations, who co-authored the Op-Ed with Biden, said “Biden got it dead right, and I still think transitioning to a federal power-sharing arrangement is the only way to stop the killing and hold Iraq together.” it turns out that, even when Joe Biden became Barack Obama’s Vice President, he was unable to implement his plan, and, as a result, from the moment the US pulled out of Iraq in 2011, the Shiite led government under Nuri Kamal al-Maliki imposed its will with an iron fist, ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president, who fled a trumped up charge of murder, and persecuted Sunni sheiks. Agreements ending the conflict were not honored, and Shiites began terrorizing Sunnis. Al-Quaida moved back into Anbar and captured Fallujah. Robert Baer of the CIA told the National Journal, “Iraq is breaking apart before our eyes along the natural sectarian borders of Kurdistan, Sunni-stan and Shiite-stan, and that drift apart looks increasingly inevitable.”
In a sense, Iraq is a fiction, a creation by the British after its World War I defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The British notions of Iraq as a unified country did not take into account religious and ethnic differences that would ultimately defy any foreign attempts toward unification. When the British Mandate ended in 1932 and the Sunni monarchy took over, a turmoil erupted in Iraq, and it continues to this day.
Although many consider Joe Biden’s 2006 pp-ed to have been prescient, the Vice President himself was forced to backtrack a few years later and in a speech described a strong federal government in Iraq as the best way to counter ISIS. “We want what the Iraqis want: a united federal and democratic Iraq as defined by its own constitution where power is shared among all Iraqi communities.”
While independence has so far eluded the Kurds, oil is the key to creating economic autonomy, but that same resource has also been used against the Kurdish nation. Hemin Hawrami, head of KDP’s foreign relations committee, told the Guardian, “For the past 80 years, the Iraqi state has been stealing Kurdish oil. They use it to buy weapons to bomb Kurds.” Currently, Kurdistan has the world’s ninth largest oil reserves, around 45-50 billion barrels, and it is exporting at a rate of up to 130,000 barrels a day. The Kurds were supposed to receive 17.5% of the total oil revenues, but the Kurds complained that the Iraqi government was short-changing them. Al-Maliki refused to hand over any money to Kurdistan. In retaliation, KRG seized oil fields near Kirkuk. Baghdad was attempting to control Kurdistan’s oil fields after ISIS bombed Iraq’s main pipeline between Iraq and Turkey. The move was stunning and the Kurdish army took complete control of the two major oil fields. This occurred shortly after the devastating fall of Mosul into the hands of the Islamic State, but the Kurds had their significant victory as well. A Kurdish spokesman told Reuters, “The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of [the Kurdish army] Peshmerga. No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk now.” Under Saddam Hussein’s “Arabization” plan, the Kurds were driven out of Kirkuk and replaced with Arab inhabitants from the South while Iraq seized the Kurdish oil fields. Now, the Kurds maintain they are merely reclaiming what was taken from them by Saddam Hussein, and that they are entitled to the fields.
Meanwhile, the Kurds have been establishing positive relations with other countries by exporting oil to allies such as Italy by way of Turkey. This is positive for the image of Kurdistan and enables the creation of solidarity as well as friendly trade. Dottoressa Kader told the Italian Insider, “We are trying to do more every day to have more friends in every direction. Today, Kurdistan is the example of Middle East co-existence between a mosaic of different peoples and religions. The recipe of civilized cohabitation.” While fears of instability in the region loom and are a reality given the encroachment of ISIS, making oil deals with Europe will cast Kurds in the role of goodwill ambassadors as well as improving trade which will fund their military and give them leverage when it comes to dealing with allies and enemies. The oil trade is another way of rewarding those who participated in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein: “When we liberated Kurdistan, we liberated a country that was almost completely destroyed. There was nothing to reconstruct it with. We needed everyone’s help and love for us. The door of Kurdistan is always open for those who participated in the liberation of Iraq,” Kader said.