ANALYSIS: How Iran has its eyes set on Iraq oil

Iran, sensing the increasing international isolation, has long sketched the necessary blueprints to prevent a future already becoming very bleak. For decades Tehran has maintained this entire country and its vast oil reserves in its crosshairs.

Recent developments in Iraqi Kurdistan prove the Iranian regime’s devious intentions and should alert the international community. The government of Iraq, jockeying to maintain ties with both Washington and Tehran, has unprecedentedly agreed to redirect Kirkuk province’s crude to Iran.

This oil will be supplying a refinery located in the city of Kermanshah, close to the recently earthquake-struck region. This decision follows the retaking of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Kurds in the notorious shadow of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani.

Own backyard

Iran has continuously fueled regional tensions across the board, launching parallel proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen against the entire Arab World, with a main focus on Saudi Arabia. After Iran enjoyed 16 years of strategic mistakes and appeasement, the Trump administration has expressed major concerns and is taking major action against Tehran.

Iran is already receiving trucks of Iraqi oil, currently based at 15,000 barrels per day valued at around $1 million, with plans to escalate to 60,000 bpd, a Reuters report citing Iraqi officials indicates.

Considering it its own backyard, Iran has pressed Iraq over an oil pipeline project to ultimately export Kirkuk oil through Gulf ports. Tehran’s ultimate objective is to pump 650,000 bpd of Kurdish oil into refineries across Iran and for export purposes, the report adds citing a senior Iranian official.

Pipes are put in place as the land is cleared from ordnance and mines laid down during the Iraq-Iran war 1980-1988, in the massive Majnoon oil field, some 40 kms from the eastern border with Iran, on February 7, 2012, in southeastern Iraq. (AFP)

 

Feeding off Iraq

While the cover story may seem an ordinary economic agreement between two neighboring countries, Tehran cannot deny a malign past of seeking to take advantage of its crisis-riddled western neighbor.

In April 2012 the London-based International Centre for Development Studies confirmed concerns of Iran stealing large amounts of Iraqi oil. Iran’s efforts involved stealing an annual value of $17 billion worth of oil from fields considered mostly Iraqi and not shared between the two oil-exporting rivals, the report indicated.

Those fields enjoy a reserve of over 100 billion barrels, with the majority laying inside Iraq. Iran was taking an estimated 130,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day, according to the report. The Iraqi oil fields of Dehloran, Naft Shahr, Beidar West, and Aban were the victims of this vast plundering.

The oil fields of al-Tayeb and Fakka, along with various sections of Majnoun, were also targets of Iranian misuse, adding another 250,000 bpd to the above figure.

Iran was stealing a whopping 14 percent of Iraqi oil revenue, depriving this war-ravaged nation of desperately needed funds that Tehran is likely to allocate to notorious belligerence across the region.

Fallen on deaf ears

Iran has also supported the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a conglomerate of mainly Shiite militia groups. This entity, following Iran’s IRGC paramilitary Bassij prototype, stands accused of smuggling oil from wells across to the country to Iran on a daily basis, according to an April 2017 report citing an Iraqi Oil Ministry source.

The Badr militia, Iraqi Hezbollah, Saraya al-Salam militias and al-Fadilah party militants have also gained significant control over the al-Basra and Maysan refineries and A’las, Oujeil and Hamrin oil wells in Salahuddin province of central Iraq. The Iraqi Oil Ministry has remained silent as PMF leaders have been smuggling hundreds of oil tankers to Iran on a daily basis, the source added.

Salahuddin Govenor Ahmed al-Jabouri’s efforts in urging Baghdad several times to protect A’las and Oujeil oil wells located east of Tikrit from such theft have fallen on deaf ears. On a daily basis dozens of oil tankers are stolen and smuggled through Tuz Khurmatu from these oil wells, the report adds.

The PMF was initially established in response to the attack staged by Islamic State terrorists. Their activities, however, have expanded to Iraq’s political affairs and the PMF also stand accused of flagrant human rights violations. To make matters even more complicated for Iran, Soleimani was spotted near the Iraq-Syria border alongside the PMF, making quite a stir in the media.

Fueling division

The entire history of Iran stealing Iraqi oil can be described as a chapter of Tehran’s silent growth of influence, especially during the years of Obama’s appeasement. Qassem Soleimani, running the IRGC’s international branch known as the Quds Force, is also known to be the right hand of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Alongside the military campaign he runs across the Middle East through Iran-backed proxy militias, Soleimani also has Iran’s oil business heavily on his mind. A September visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by Soleimani came prior to the Iraqi army’s recapture of Kirkuk, resulting from a rift in Kurdish forces leading to the city’s fall into Baghdad control.

“… the presence of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, exacerbated tensions among the Kurds and the government in Baghdad,” US Senator John McCain said in Washington recently.

Iraqi porters sit on their carts as they wait for customers overlooking Iran bound oil tankers at the new Zurbatia checkpoint, 120 km southeast of Baghdad November 17, 2007. (Reuters)

 

Iran has since 2003 been known to fuel division across Iraq and Soleimani’s recent stop in Kurdistan came after a referendum that Iran vigorously opposed, and was followed suspiciously with Kirkuk’s sudden fall. “The recapture of Kirkuk was coordinated with Soleimani,” according to the abovementioned Reuters report.

This can lead to a conclusion that Iran, sensing harsh times ahead, is providing increasing control to the IRGC over the vital oil sector in its already troubled economy.

This may seem a flawed decision by Tehran considering the IRGC’s recent terrorist designation by Washington. Yet it also sheds light on Iran’s dependency on the IRGC to further advance domestic and regional policies.

Changing times

Iran will resort to further such desperate measures in the coming future, comprehending how the tide is changing drastically against its interests.

A possible agreement between the US and Russia over Syria following a recent meeting between President Donald Trump and his counterpart Vladimir Putin; the surprising resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his visit to Paris; France raising the tone against Iran’s ballistic missile program; and growing domestic unrest witnessed following the recent earthquake in western Iran are all tallying Tehran’s deepening concerns.

Conditions are shifting fast, and Tehran believes desperate times call for desperate measures. Vital now is for the international community to increase the velocity of restrictions damning this regime. With ISIS’s days of authority coming to an end Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri has called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband the PMF.

Sunday’s Arab Summit session in Cairo ended in a statement describing Iran as a “dangerous dagger”in the region, especially in its approach towards Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries.

“Ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia have amounted to 76 rockets, all Iranian-made, and therefore we affirm our full solidarity with Saudi Arabia in everything it takes to protect its national security,” said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit during the emergency meeting. The entity went as far as saying it will not declare war on Iran at this stage.

US President Donald Trump signaling future pressure on Iran’s oil exports, Congress passing a billaimed at blocking the sale of commercial aircraft to Tehran and the Bahrain Interior Ministry revealing further details of an Iran-linked terrorist cell are also further steps in this direction.

This is the nature of measures needed against Iran these days.

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ANALYSIS: Is Iran’s intransigence whiplashing onto its population?

Iran’s aggressions across the Middle East and its support for terrorist and fundamentalist organizations have raised strong remarks from senior regional officials and their American counterparts. And the impact is whiplashing back into Iran’s population.

Iran is ramping up its illicit activities across the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, and threatens free navigation in international waters, according to the US military’s top officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, as he explained his concerns to the Senate Armed Forces Committee at a recent hearing.

Last month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York was the scene of many foreign ministers and other senior officials making strong remarks criticizing Iran’s meddling in regional countries and its unbridled backing of proxy groups checkered throughout the Middle East.

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy,” said US President Donald Trump during his first UNGA speech. Tehran’s regime is a “rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” he added.

Iranian soldiers attend the swearing-in ceremony for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for a further term, at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2017. (Reuters)

A regional voice

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir condemned Tehran’s belligerence and accused this regime of providing financial support for sectarian proxy groups in Syria and Iraq.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said Iran is disrespecting others’ rights with its expansionist policies and plays a very important role in destabilizing the region through its meddling.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa accused Iran of supporting terrorist organizations, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, and emphasized any normalization in relations with Tehran hinges on this regime ending its support of terrorism. Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi said the Iran-backed Houthi militias are executing Iran’s interventionist agendas in the region.

Kuwait’s envoy in the UNGA called on Tehran to bring an end to its measures threatening regional security. he Cairo-based Arab League closed their September 12th session issuing a statement condemning Iran’s “meddling in Arabic countries.”

“We call on Iran to end its hostile remarks, provocative measures and media attacks against Arabic countries as such actions are considered flagrant meddling in the internal affairs of these Arab states. We condemn Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of Bahrain and the Syria crisis. These interventions can render dangerous results for Syria’s future, security, sovereignty, stability and national unity.”

Maryam Rajavi, (C) founder of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) speaks on June 27, 2014 in Villepinte. (AFP)

As concerns also circle over Iran’s recruiting of fighters from as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Syria war, a new Human Rights Watch report indicates how this campaign has involved Tehran’s conscripting of even Afghan children.

This is parallel to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accusing Iran and Russia of continuing to provide armed support to the Afghan Taliban, media reports said on Saturday

Slate of challenges

The stances adopted by these countries provide no other conclusion that one of Iran’s red lines and main pillars, being its regional ambitions and initiatives, is clearly threatened.

Many countries, especially the Gulf states, are realizing more than ever before that the Middle East will not experience a single day of stability or security as long as Iran continues to support terrorist groups and prolongs its fundamentalist measures.

Iran’s state-affiliated Arman daily ran a piece on September 14th titled, “Iran’s regional and international challenges,” describing this regime’s foreign ministry facing two super-challenges across the region and abroad.

Holding states hostage

Despite all these setbacks in the region and across the globe, and considering all this hatred targeting Tehran, this regime has no choice other than continuing its destructive meddling and support for terrorism throughout the Middle East.

It is obvious that Iran’s objective is to literally hold these states hostage and to protect its “strategic depth,” mainly referring to their foothold and influence in Syria.

As senior Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have said time and again, if their “strategic depth” is threatened this regime will have to face its domestic dilemmas. This means a powder keg populace and the Iranian opposition movement in the very streets of Iranian cities.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran September 14, 2007. (Reuters)

“Had the ill-wishers and plotters not been prevented from their evil deeds in Syria we would have to prevent them in the Iranian provinces of Tehran, Fars, Khorasan and Isfahan, so it is better we do it there,” Khamenei said back in June. This would be a recipe for disaster and brews a crisis far more dangerous than regional and international isolation.

Iran is known to use its war machine of terrorism and meddling in other countries as means to cloak its domestic crackdown and predicaments. Interesting is the fact that the Iranian people are realizing how Tehran’s regime is becoming weaker by the day. This is seen in their growing number of rallies and the political nature of their demands.

Matters become far worse as Iran enjoys an organized opposition movement seen in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) able to motivate and guide protest movements to an extent causing major concerns for Tehran.

The semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, even wired a piece warning the entire regime: “… fear the millions, young and old… all waiting for just a spark to set fire to everything… Have fear, and know that when the storm arrives, there will be nowhere to hide. All paths will be closed… you won’t even reach the airplane’s steps as the Shah was able to…” referring to when the Shah of Iran fled only weeks prior to the 1979 revolution.

ANALYSIS: Is the Arab Summit alliance raising stakes for Iran?

It appears the recent Arab League Summit in Jordan should be considered an important development in the path of further isolating Iran in the Middle East. At a first glance, this was a conference in which the highest number of state leaders participated in comparison to previous such gatherings.

A more in-depth perspective places us before this important conclusion that most speakers strongly criticized Iran’s meddling and highlighted the necessity of solidarity and alliance amongst Arab states to confront this phenomenon. Leaders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan specifically expressed their grave concerns over Iran’s interference across the region, especially Syria, sectarian warmongering and Tehran’s state sponsorship of terrorism.

“Tehran provokes sectarianism and hinders efforts to resolve regional crises,” said Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Iran’s setback

Significant is the fact that the Arab Summit initially prepared a relatively low-profile draft resolution adopting a soft tone in relation to Iran. However, the final resolution prepared and published by Arab League Foreign Ministers reflected the majority members’ position, being completely against Iran and the mullahs’ policies of meddling and supporting terrorism.

However, a few Arab countries such as Iraq and Lebanon – literally taken hostage by Iran – or Algeria, enjoying specific interests in its relations with the mullahs’ regime, could not jump on this resolution train.

This left the remaining member states before two options: either refusing to sign, forgoing any possibility of forming a consensus and accepting resulting rifts; or financing on their common grounds, being the subjects of Palestine and opposing any meddling in others internal affairs (without specifically mentioning Iran). Although the terms used in the resolution falls of short of directly pinpointing the mullahs’ regime in Iran, it is quite obvious who the crosshairs were placed on.

Importantly, of grave significance for the main member states in this conference was to enjoy Iraq’s signature, and that of its Prime Minister, on this initiative. Considering the new international status quo and Washington’s new policies, the gradual distancing of Iraq from Iran, and further advances in this regard is seen in the forecast.

Although the terms used in the Arab Summit resolution falls of short of directly pinpointing the regime in Iran, it is quite obvious who the crosshairs were placed on. (Reuters)

A new era

It is worth noting the Obama years rendered a complete passive and inactive American policy in regards to Iraq. Through a disastrous strategic mistake in pulling out prematurely from Iraq, Washington practically giftwrapped Baghdad to Tehran.
This policy has currently changed and American policymakers have made it crystal clear how they will not permit Iran take on any wished measures.

US CENTCOM commander General Joseph Votel in a recent hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Forces Committee emphasized on the necessity to confront Iran as the main long-term threat before stability in the Middle East. Votel also went the distance to insist on considering military assets and other capabilities to stop this regime.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently visited Washington and signs indicate he has been briefed and received specific instructions over the America’s major policy overhaul and shifts in relation to Iraq and the entire Middle East. To this end, Arab leaders saw it very important to have Iraq – a party voting against previous summit resolutions – to sign this new initiative. This allowed the summit to maintain its fabric and unity over two main subjects of Palestine and condemning meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

General James Jones, former NATO commander and US national security advisor, recently called on all Gulf States to establish a defensive alliance similar to that of NATO against the threats Iran poses for regional states. Such an “Arab NATO” will enjoy America’s support, he added.

Global front against Iran

When we use the terms a substantial alteration in international politics, we must mention a recent hearing held at the British Parliament discussing Iran’s meddling in the region, widespread condemnations targeting the mullahs’ human rights violations, calls to establish an Arab alliance aimed at evict this regime from regional countries. For such a cause, designating the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization would be a prelude measure and act as a necessary springboard.

This goes in line with further measures to enforce the flawed deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Rest assured if the Arab World adopts a firm stance and demands Iran’s eviction from their soil, the US will most definitely be encouraged to blacklist the IRGC and defang Iran’s meddling.

Moreover, the presence of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Youssef bin al-Ottaimeen, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, envoys of the US And France in this conference indicated the decisions made in this platform enjoy enormous international support, rendering further worldwide isolation for Tehran.

Reactions seen from Iran prove the fact this Arab Summit in Jordan ended as a complete failure and delivered heavy damages to Tehran’s interests. As usual, the mullahs’ media resort to low-standard lies that deserve no repetition. The mullahs, however, cannot cloak their utter anger and fear of such a united position against its meddling in Arab countries.

As we close in to Iran’s presidential elections in May, rest assured this isolation on the international stage will have a major impact on Iran’s domestic politics, and the Iranian society – described as a powder keg – is watching very closely.

Originally published in Al Arabiya English