Independent Kurdistan in US interest: John Bolton
Bolton’s support for an independent Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq highlights one of the key goals of neo-conservatives who conspired to launch the illegal invasion of the country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves
By News Desk - March 26 2023

(Photo Credit: Pavlo Gonchar / Shutterstock)

In an interview with Kurdish Rudaw published on 25 March, Bush and Trump administration official John Bolton stated that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is in the interest of the US.

“I think an independent Kurdistan is in the interest of the United States. It’s hard to define exactly what its boundaries would be. But I think the state of Iraq has failed. I think certainly Kurdish territories in Iraq could be the basis of a new independent country.”

Bolton’s strong advocacy for the 2003 Iraq war, coupled with his support for an independent Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq, highlights one of the key goals of neo-conservatives who conspired to launch the illegal invasion of the country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves.

After occupying the country, the Bush administration strongly supported three political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim.

These parties all supported a federal system that would weaken the Iraqi central government and create three autonomous regions in Iraq based on ethnicity – a Kurdish state in the north, a Shia state in Baghdad and the south, and a Sunni state in the West.

With Bush administration support, the Kurdish parties and SCIRI inserted Article 140 into the new Iraqi constitution passed in 2005, which established a process for the Kurds to annex Kirkuk, with its massive oil reserves, and other so-called disputed territories, including Sinjar, following a referendum planned for 2007.

These efforts failed in 2007, but the Kurdish political leadership had another chance to annex Kirkuk and lay the foundation for an independent state in 2014 when ISIS invaded Mosul. When the Iraqi army withdrew from the city and collapsed, Kurdish Peshmerga forces moved to seize Kirkuk, thereby increasing their oil reserves from 4 billion to 13 billion barrels and acquiring the infrastructure base needed to establish Kurdistan as an independent state.

According to French academic and Iraq expert Pierre-Jean Luizard, the Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk was not accidental, as Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani entered into an agreement with ISIS to divide territory in northern Iraq.

Two months later, Peshmerga forces withdrew from both Sinjar and the Nineveh Plain, allowing ISIS to take control of these regions, despite public promises to defend both areas. The abrupt Peshmerga withdrawal opened the door for ISIS to massacre thousands of Yazidi men in Sinjar and take thousands of women and girls as sex slaves, while Christians managed to flee their traditional towns and cities in Nineveh.

Masoud Barzani himself later declared that “Article 140 has been applied. The borders are drawn with blood!”

Former US Ambassador to Turkiye and resident scholar at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) James Jeffrey testified before the US Senate in the wake of the fall of Mosul to ISIS that the US should reconsider its traditional policy of maintaining a unified Iraq. Instead, the US should insist that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not be reelected and “prepare to deal with an Iraq semi-permanently split into three separate political entities.”

After the fall of Mosul, the Kurds immediately began selling oil from the Kirkuk fields to Turkiye for later delivery to Israel, independent of Baghdad. This was possible because the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had tapped into the existing Iraq-Turkiye Pipeline to connect its oilfields to the Turkish border crossing at Fishkhabour. This oil was then sent by pipeline to the Turkish city of Ceyhan and sold to Israeli buyers for export to Israel by tanker. By 2015, Kurdish oil was the source of 77% of Israel’s oil imports.

On the basis of Kurdish territorial and oil gains stemming from 2014, Masoud Barzani announced an independence referendum in Kurdistan in 2017. At the time, John Bolton showed strong support for the Kurdish independence referendum, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed direct support for the creation of a Kurdish state.

The effort to create an independent state in northern Iraq failed however, as Iranian-supported units of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), or Hashd al-Shaabi, moved to retake Kirkuk under orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in response to the referendum.

Kurdish oil exports of some 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to Turkiye were finally stopped this week, in March 2023, after an international court of arbitration ruled that Turkiye has violated a bilateral treaty by facilitating independent oil exports from the KRG.

The ruling halted the Kurdish goal, at least temporarily, of maintaining autonomous control of its oil sector and raised doubts about whether oil companies in Kurdistan would be able to continue producing and selling oil unless an agreement with Baghdad is reached moving forward.


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