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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Before Anyone Further Appeases Iran…

 

The pro-Iran deal camp is recently making much noise about how the Trump administration and critics of the pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are making rightful complaints of the text failing to address Iran’s destructive belligerence in the Middle East.

These are valid concerns, considering the fact that even if the deal remains intact come October’s decision by President Donald Trump to find Iran in compliance or not, the mullahs are hell-bent to continue wreaking havoc and expanding influence across the region.

The pro-Iran deal camp claim Washington has no evidence to hold Tehran in violation of the JCPOA terms. Not true.

  • Tehran has exceeded its heavy water production cap, necessary for a plutonium nuclear bomb,
  • testing more advanced centrifuges,
  • illicitly procuring highly sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile technology in Germany, according to Berlin’s intelligence services,
  • surpassing its uranium enrichment cap, another key non-compliance factor

The pro-JCPOA camp also argues this deal has prevented Iran from becoming the next North Korea. This is partially true and misleads only the uninformed reader. A deal very similar to the JCPOA, led by the Clinton administration, was signed with North Korea and ended up in dismal failure. This left the world with a rogue state now equipped with at least 20 nuclear bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles and the technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead in its payload.

While the JCPOA was intended to keep Iran away from nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t Washington lead the West in demanding Iran curb its further belligerence, such as advances in its ballistic missile drive, increasing executions and atrocious human rights violations, and stirring mayhem in the Middle East?

 

Iran must be held responsible for “its missile launches, support for terrorism, disregard for human rights, and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Tuesday.

Speaking of this flashpoint region, legitimate concerns exist over Iran establishing a “Shiite crescent” stretching from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Important to note is the fact that JCPOA flaws, and the Obama administration’s desperate nature to sign a deal as a foreign policy legacy, provided Iran a windfall of billions to stoke its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

“Iran has been helpful in Iraq by fighting the Islamic State,” is how The New York Times describes Tehran’s campaign in its western neighbor, failing to even mention how Iran-backed Shiite militias and death squads have launched massacres, killing sprees and forced displacements targeting Iraq’s Sunnis and other minorities. While Iraq was a melting pot of peoples of different backgrounds living intertwined in peace and for centuries, Iran’s fueling of sectarian wars has created a dangerously wide rift of hatred.

Iran’s measures in supporting Yemen’s Houthis in their illegitimate fight against an internationally recognized government, funding of the Lebanese Hezbollah and supporting the Afghan Taliban as an ally against the US add all the more reason for strong action against Tehran.

In parallel fashion, the pro-appeasement camp continues to seek ties between Washington and Tehran, similar to the “working relationship” established between former US top diplomat John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iran apologists are quick to criticize current US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for refusing to meet Iranians, while easily brushing aside the undeniable truth that Tehran usurped its warmed relations with the Obama administration to concurrently prop up the Assad regime and its massacring of innocent Syrian women and children, especially with chemical weapons.

Another question Iran apologists have allowed Tehran to go by never answering is this: Why do the mullahs continuously insist on such a politically and economically expensive nuclear program while sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas reserve and fourth largest crude oil reserve?

If the mullahs truly sought the better interest of the “Iranian nation,” as they have claimed for the past forty years, why don’t they turn off the lights on their nuclear program and reap in all the incentives and lucrative economic contracts that will most definitely follow?

And why the sudden regime change-phobia on Iran? Yes, many critics correctly point out the fact that regime change policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have gone south. Yet why do these critics fail to go the distance and carefully evaluate the main reason behind these failures?

Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya lacked any solution and alternative to replace their ruling states with true democracies. This is not the case with Iran.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of numerous dissident groups and individuals, led by its charismatic President Maryam Rajavi, has a ten-point plan for the future of Iran.

Universal suffrage, pluralism, individual freedoms, abolition of the death penalty, separation of church state, gender equality, rule of law, commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, peaceful coexistence and a non-nuclear Iran all meet the modern democracies in the West.

The NCRI, with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as its core member, has been gaining serious momentum in the past few months. Senator John McCain, Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee met with NCRI President Rajavi in April. Last month hundreds of international dignitaries and over 100,000 members of the Iranian Diaspora voiced support for regime change in Iran in a massive Paris rally.

And as the Trump administration is weighing its comprehensive Iran policy, a high-profile delegation of US senators recently visited Maryam Rajavi and PMOI/MEK members in Albania. This visit sends strong signals as Rajavi and the PMOI/MEK are the legitimate flagbearers of regime change in Tehran.

Credit : National Council of Resistance of Iran
NCRI President Maryam Rajavi meeting with a delegation of US senators in Tirana Albania.

At such a sensitive timing, Tehran is on its last leg and Iran apologists are desperately attempting to provide a crutch. This is a highly mistaken approach.

Washington should lead the West in raising the stakes for Iran. Demands must be placed before the mullahs to end all its menacing activities, parallel to the international recognition of the Iranian opposition NCRI to realize regime change in Tehran.