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Iraqi Kurdistan, autonomous and oil-rich
by Staff Writers
Arbil, Iraq (AFP) Sept 25, 2017

Oil exports at risk from Kurdish vote
Washington (UPI) Sep 25, 2017 - An autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq could face financial risk from neighbors like Turkey who control the oil lifeline, a risk consultant group said.

Monday's vote follows several decades of acrimony between Kurdish administrators and the federal government in Baghdad, acrimony that predates the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. A publication Sunday from the Kurdistan Regional Government said the federal government in Baghdad has violated "no less than 55" of the 144 articles in Iraqi constitution and that, according to charter of the United Nations, it has the right to self-determination.

The vote is contentious on the global stage because of concerns about regional stability. Anthony Skinner, a director of regional affairs for risk consultant group Verisk Maplecroft, said in a report emailed to UPI that Turkey, the Kurdish region's northern neighbor, has substantial leverage over the economy.

"Cutting Iraqi Kurdistan's land access to the Mediterranean would be equivalent to restricting the coronary artery feeding Kurdistan's heart," he wrote.

A pipeline from the Kurdish north has the capacity to carry 550,000 barrels of oil per day. Skinner said independence for Kurdish region would be "meaningless" if Turkey closed the option to ship that oil from its Ceyhan seaport on the Mediterranean Sea.

Most foreign governments have come out against Kurdish ambitions. Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said the referendum is strongly opposed by the U.S. government, which favors sustained dialogue between the Kurdish and federal governments.

"The referendum may jeopardize Iraqi Kurdistan's regional trade relations, and international assistance of all kinds, even though none of Iraq's partners wish this to be the case," she said last week. "This is simply the reality of this very serious situation."

Kurdish oil exports north through Turkey have been at times targeted by the group calling itself the Islamic State. Turkey, for its part, is at the front lines of regional conflict in Syria and faces its own internal pressures from the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish initials PKK.

"The last thing Turkey needs is for Iraqi Kurdistan to be plunged into sectarian conflict," Skinner wrote.

Iraq's Kurdish region, which is holding a referendum on statehood on Monday, has been autonomous since 1991 and has played a major role in the war against jihadists.

- Oil rich, financially strapped -

Situated in the rugged, mountainous north of Iraq, the oil-rich region is home to about five million people.

It is mainly made up of Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, alongside Christian and Turkmen minorities.

Officially comprising Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah provinces, Iraqi Kurdistan also claims other territory including oil-rich Kirkuk province -- a dispute that is a major source of contention with Baghdad.

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have been in sole control of a chunk of Kirkuk province since federal forces withdrew when faced with an offensive by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014, while the jihadists hold the southwest of the province.

Iraqi Kurdistan has major oil resources, but has been hit hard by falling crude prices, which have cut into its main source of revenue.

- War against IS -

Kurdish forces have played a significant role in the war against IS, and have been an important ally of the US-led coalition against the jihadists.

They took part in the massive operation to retake Mosul from IS, which was launched in October 2016, capturing territory near the city but stopping short of entering it.

The region has also taken in hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes by the jihadists.

- Autonomy since 1991 -

Iraqi Kurdistan, whose capital is Arbil, became formally autonomous in 2005 under the constitution which set up a federal republic.

But it had gained de facto autonomy after the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait when Western powers intervened to protect Kurds against an onslaught by the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that led hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries.

The United States and its allies set up no-fly zones in north and south Iraq, with the former helping to shield the Kurds.

Elections in 1992 established the regional parliament, with seats split between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Disputes between the two parties led to deadly clashes between 1994 and 1998. Kurds then joined US troops in 2003 to help overthrow Saddam.

The Iraqi Kurds have kept their dialects, their traditions and a clan-based organisation, with regional politics dominated by two main families.

Massud Barzani, the leader of the KDP who was elected president of Kurdistan in 2005, has remained in power despite the expiration of his term amid criticism from the opposition.

- 'The time has come' -

Barzani declared on February 3, 2016 that the "time has come" for the country's Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood.

"This referendum would not necessarily lead to (an) immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future," he said.

On eve of the referendum, Barzani vowed to press ahead with the vote "whatever the risk and price".

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi responded by threatening to take the "necessary measures" to protect Iraqi unity, as his government urged all countries to deal only with it on oil transactions.

Iraq since the US-led invasion
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 25, 2017 - US-led forces invaded Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2003 after claims it was harbouring weapons of mass destruction.

Here is a timeline of major events in the country since then:

- 2003 fall and capture of Saddam -

Sirens wail and explosions rock Baghdad around dawn on March 20, signalling the start of the invasion, as announced soon afterwards by US president George W. Bush in a televised address.

Iraqi president Saddam Hussein flees. The international forces' race across the desert of southern Iraq is broadcast around the world.

By April 9, US forces have taken control of Baghdad, where a large statue of Saddam is symbolically toppled.

Bush announces the end of major combat operations in a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, with a banner that reads "Mission Accomplished" behind him.

By October, Washington admits, however, that it has found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Saddam is captured in December after nine months on the run. He is dragged bearded and dishevelled out of a small underground hideout and hanged three years later.

- 2004-2011, elections and handover -

The US-led administration officially hands political power back to Iraq on June 28, 2004.

On January 30, 2005, Iraqis vote in their first multi-party election in half a century, a poll boycotted by Sunni Muslims.

A 2005 constitution enshrines autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan in the country's north.

On February 22, 2006 Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists blow up one of the country's main Shiite shrines, in Samarra, sparking a wave of sectarian killings.

In July 2006, the United States hands over security control.

International forces start scaling down their presence. US forces complete their withdrawal on December 18, 2011, after nine years in the country.

Between 2003 and 2011, more than 100,000 civilians have been killed, according to Iraq Body Count. The United States has lost nearly 4,500 troops.

- 2013-2014, the Islamic State emerges -

Head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announces in an online recording in April 2013 the creation of a group straddling Syria called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In January 2014, Iraq loses its first key town since the US-led invasion as ISIL and its allies capture Fallujah and parts of Ramadi.

ISIL, benefiting from the support of Saddam loyalists, launches a lightning offensive, as weak security forces crumble.

In June, they seize second city Mosul and Sunni Arab areas bordering the Kurdistan region. Tens of thousands of Christians and Yazidis flee.

In June 2014, the group declares a "caliphate" across the territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria and rebrands itself the Islamic State (IS).

By the end of 2014, the group holds one-third of oil-rich Iraq.

- 2014, the fightback -

Following an appeal from the Iraqi government, US warplanes strike IS positions in northern Iraq in August 2014, in Washington's first direct military engagement in the country since its troop withdrawal.

In September, an international coalition is formed to battle IS.

In March 2015, Iraq announces the "liberation" of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, after nearly 10 months under IS rule.

Other towns are retaken: Ramadi in February 2016 and in June, Fallujah.

- 2017, victory in Mosul -

A vast offensive to retake Mosul, where Baghdadi made his only public appearance in 2014, is launched in October 2016 involving about 30,000 Iraqi troops, backed by US-led air support.

After a battle that leaves the city in ruins and thousands displaced, victory is declared on July 10. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says it marks the end of the jihadists' "caliphate".

Both sides claim win with fracking ruling
Washington (UPI) Sep 22, 2017
Both sides in the debate over hydraulic fracturing claimed victory with a federal appeals court in Denver ruling on federal powers. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's ruling on overreach challenges against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which wanted regulatory oversight from the states. Environmental groups said the ruling meant regulations developed ... read more

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