Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Iraq's Kurds Score Big. Thanks Muqtada!

Iraq prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has his hands full trying to suppress the rival Shiite militia, al Sadr's Mahdi army. That's why news of major concessions to the Kurdish autonomous region seem well timed.

What the Kurds won from Maliki was control of their region's oil and Baghdad's agreement to put the 190,000-strong Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, on the government's payroll.

The oil deal gives the Kurdish administration the power to sign oil development deals on its own. Until now Baghdad opposed such deals, claiming they would be null and void. This concession opens Kurdistan's largely undeveloped oil fields to development by foreign companies. Unlike the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan is relatively peaceful and much more attractive to foreigners.

The Kurdish policy has been that all revenues from new oil projects should remain with the Kurds while revenues from any Saddam-era production would be shared with the rest of the country. Given that Saddam punished the Kurds by thwarting oil development projects, it's a pretty one-sided deal.

As for the Peshmerga, going on the Baghdad government's payroll won't see any change of loyalty. These are Kurdish militiamen, openly hostile to their Arab countrymen, who come from a part of the country where flying the Iraqi flag is prohibited.

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