The curse of oil in Iraqi Kurdistan
Middle East junkie. Writing book on Iraq for @Columbia.
A region once held up by the US as a beacon of hope in a broken Iraq, Kurdistan has instead — in oil’s name — fallen victim to corruption and war.
ERBIL, Iraq — Commander Kamal Kirkuki swung open the large wooden doors to reveal a conference room. It was a war room, really. There was a long table and plush leather office chairs, maps with pins, a projector. A Chinese-made surveillance drone rested in the corner.
“I’m sorry you had to wait so long,” he said. “I was with the Americans.”
Kirkuki is a slender man, wearing traditional Kurdish clothing. He is unassuming in his mannerisms yet he holds one of the highest positions on this battlefield in northern Iraq. He is a top officer in the Kurdish military, known as the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga is an essential American ally in the ground war against ISIS.
His team is in charge of the city of Dibis and its surrounding villages. Dibis is just 80 miles southeast of Mosul. It is part of Kirkuk province and has been controlled by Kurdish forces since the Iraqi army’s northern divisions retreated in June 2014. This region is the epicenter of the war against the terrorist organization in part because it is the site of some of the largest reserves of oil in Iraqi Kurdistan. ISIS has used the oil it controls here to help finance its operations worldwide.
“Every movement we made was about protecting the oil”
— Commander Kamal Kirkuki
Kirkuki dimmed the lights. A large projector dropped from the ceiling, and with little introduction he began to run through the same presentation he gave to representatives of the US military just minutes earlier. The Peshmerga had received new intelligence — drone footage of ISIS fighters hiding out in a nearby house. A car drove across the screen, down a dirt road, and into a small driveway.
“This house is where about 20 soldiers are hiding. They’re going into that house now, but they won’t come out again,” Kirkuki said with a smirk.
He flipped through images taken in the area, pointing out ISIS safe houses and tunnels. Eventually, the projector went black and the commander turned on the lights. A large map hung on one of the walls. Blue and red thumbtacks marked different positions on the battlefield — red for ISIS and blue for the Peshmerga. The commander reviewed a series of recent battles, moving the blue and red dots to show how his men have succeeded against the terrorist group.More...
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