Seven Sunni construction workers were killed by unidentified gunmen who fired on them from a speeding S.U.V. on Tuesday morning in Abara, a majority-Sunni village in Diyala Province, police and medical officials said. When their families took the bodies to a ritual washing hall, a bomb exploded, killing six family members, two women and four men. That evening, a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite shrine in Diyala, killing 12 Shiites. “Al Qaeda has succeeded in its strategy,” said Haider al-Musawi, a security expert and former army officer. “Now Sunnis think that the Shiites are killing them, and the Shiites think that the Sunnis killed them.” He said the situation could become worse than Syria barring an immediate solution, which would be “a miracle.” The 25 were among 31 people killed in Iraq on Tuesday.
The November 19 double-suicide bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut may have looked shocking in the headlines – they killed 23 people. But they also should not have come as a surprise.
Since 2011, Tehran has earned its karma in Lebanon. The attack, whose victims included an Iranian diplomat, was likely payback for the Shiite theocracy’s unwavering support for the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal repression of the largely Sunni uprising in Syria. Aided by Iranian troops, weapons and its Lebanese Shiite proxy militia Hezbollah, over the past three years, al-Assad’s government has killed nearly 130,000 mostly Sunni Syrians.
The real question is what comes now – and I expect a surge in regional violence. Paradoxically, the international “first step” nuclear agreement with Iran increases rather than diminishes the chances that the Shiite theocracy in Tehran will take steps that exacerbate the regional sectarian conflict.
Notwithstanding the optimism surrounding the “moderate” presidency of Hassan Rouhani, Iran has a long history of pursuing provocative – and oftentimes deadly – policies during ostensible periods of conciliation with the West. Consider that during presidency of the “moderate” Hashemi Rafsanjani, an administration in which Rouhani served on the National Security Council, Iranian proxies were widely viewed as responsible for attacks on both the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, and U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996.
The term of “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami was equally distinguished. Under Khatami, Iran continued its longstanding policy of targeting dissidents abroad and increased its support for Palestinian terrorist organizations, according to the State Department. In 2000, after then Secretary of State Madeline Albright ended restrictions on the sale of Iranian carpets, pistachio nuts, caviar, and spare airplane parts, and apologized for U.S. misdeeds toward Tehran, Khatami responded by continuing to surreptitiously build its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. Three years later, Khatami’s Iran – along with Syria – stood accused of flooding Iraq with al Qaeda insurgents and roadside bombs in an effort to derail the U.S. invasion and occupation.
Like Secretary Albright’s initiative, it seems that Tehran views the “first step” nuclear agreement as carte blanche, insulation against any U.S. sanction for problematic behavior on other fronts. For good reason. The Obama administration has invested so much political and diplomatic capital on the nuclear negotiations, it’s difficult to imagine Washington risking the agreement on lower priority issues.
This dynamic likely means that America’s uneasy ally, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will soon become a target for Iran, because while the al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the Iranian embassy blast in Beirut, it is difficult to believe that Iran and Hezbollah will not retaliate against Saudi Arabia, as the chief backer of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and the Sunni revolt in Syria. Indeed, Hezbollah officials including Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al Akhbar – whose articles frequently reflect the Shiite militia’s views – have attributed the bombingto a group tied to Saudi Arabia, suggesting that the Kingdom’s embassy, diplomatic personnel, or nationals in Lebanon or abroad could be the next targets.
Should Tehran hit Riyadh, it could transform and broaden the ongoing Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into a more overt, deadly, and destabilizing conflict.
This isn’t the first time that Riyadh has found itself in Tehran’s crosshairs. In 2011, Iran was accused by the United States of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. Anticipating retaliation for the Beirut attack, shortly after the bombing the Saudi Ambassador in Beirut advised the Kingdom’s citizens to leave Lebanon.
Notwithstanding a marked increase in deadly Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, to date Lebanon has avoided the worst case scenario – a resumption of civil war. In the aftermath of a car bombing earlier this year in Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold of Dahiya, for example, in a calculated effort to avoid escalation, bothSunnis and Shiites blamed Israel for the explosion. Likewise, Lebanese Armed Forces units are currently deployed along the sectarian fault line between Sunnis and Lebanese Alawites – nominally Shiite supporters of the Assad regime – in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli, trying to calm tensions.
But the embassy bombing and Iran’s anticipated retaliation against Saudi Arabia could threaten Lebanon’s already tenuous stability. Indeed, just two days after the attack, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militia shelled a Saudi border post as “a warning message” to Riyadh to stop “interfering” in Iraq. Meanwhile, on the day of the Beirut blast, Hezbollah MP Ali Mikdad issued his own warning. “We got the message and we know who sent it and we know how to retaliate,” he reportedly said.
If the past is any precedent, another “message” from Tehran to Riyadh regarding Syria and Lebanon is just around the corner. Regrettably, it will likely be accompanied by a spike in sectarian violence.
IRBIL, Iraq – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an al-Qaeda splinter group with a goal of creating a new country based on a radical interpretation of Islamic law, has launched a major campaign to establish control of territory in several provinces of Iraq.
The militant group has claimed responsibility for many, though not all, of the hundreds of attacks that have claimed more than 6,200 lives this year in Iraq, the worst violence since 2008.
Now the group appears to be entering a new phase of its evolution. In some parts of Syria, it already claims to be setting up the rudimentary elements of government — including courts, schools and civil bureaucracies — and it appears to be making a bid to do the same in Iraq.
“We’re seeing sustained gun battles with Iraqi security forces,” said Jessica Lewis, research director of the Institute for the Study of War, who has studied the resurgence of the group that began by calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq. “This shows they want to stay, to stake out their turf. If you’re moving in on a territory, this is what you do.”
The group’s latest major attack, in downtown Kirkuk this past week, lasted more than 12 hours and left at least 10 people dead, according to several local security officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the news media. The operation, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility, showcased extensive training, ruthless motivation and tactical sophistication.
The assault began at midday Wednesday, when an operative drove to the entrance of an intelligence headquarters and blew up his explosives-laden car. A second attacker followed on foot, spraying gunfire and then detonating a suicide vest.
As snipers fired from the roof of a nearby shopping mall, at least six attackers managed to breach a security cordon and enter the headquarters. The overwhelmed local police failed for several hours to gain control of the situation; televised footage showed officers peering around the corners of buildings and firing at the snipers without aiming.
When the fighting was finally finished, about 1 a.m. Thursday, the mall was engulfed in flames. In addition to those killed, at least 54 security personnel and 52 civilians were wounded.
The militant group refers to its would-be territory in Kirkuk as part of the “Daash Emirate,” which also includes neighboring Salahuddin and Diyala provinces. The campaign for the Daash Emirate has featured not only attacks on hard targets, such as the intelligence directorate in Kirkuk, but also a systematic program of intimidation against Iraqi security forces, government officials and their families.
Through late October and November, for example, militants launched several attacks against Iraqi army and police personnel in their homes around Kirkuk, according to Iraqi officers who declined to be named for security reasons. ISIS operatives have often spared their targets’ lives, the officers said, but have blown up their houses and warned their colleagues to leave the security forces.
Such attacks are part of a broader initiative that the group has dubbed “Soldiers’ Harvest,” Lewis said.
“Their goal is to get people to abandon the security forces,” she said. “Using their existing battalions, they can intimidate a lot of people with just a few bombs.”
As a result, some soldiers have left their posts and morale has suffered. With fewer men to guard checkpoints and patrol the provinces, militants from the group have been able to increase the pace and size of their attacks — and not just around Kirkuk.
Iraq’s western desert in Anbar province, which has a long and porous border with Syria, has been dubbed the “Jazeera Emirate.” Militants have launched an especially relentless wave of attacks on the city of Fallujah over the past two months, including the assassination of its mayor, Adnan Hussein, who was shot Nov. 13 by a rooftop sniper.
“Al-Qaeda controls 40 percent of the desert area of Anbar province,” said Sabah Karhout, the chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council.
Iraqi security forces have struck back, but — in a stark contrast to when they were working in concert with U.S. Special Forces — they have far less technological capacity to gather signals intelligence and less analytical capacity to assemble different bits of information into clear pictures that would help them plan operations.
Instead, they often appear to be relying on blunt tactics that threaten to alienate the local population. After the killing of Fallujah’s mayor, for example, police arrested about 400 people and held many of them for more than two weeks without charges, according to families of several of the detainees.
In Kirkuk, the security response has also been complicated by a long-standing dispute among several ethnic groups, including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, that lay competing claims to the same land. The deployment of security forces is influenced not only by imperatives of public safety but also by the political and territorial aspirations of their commanders.
On Wednesday, as it became clear the local police were overmatched, the Arab-majority 12th Division of the Iraqi army, stationed at the nearby Kirkuk air base, offered to respond, according to a member of the division. But Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim, a Kurd, declined, opting instead to bring a Kurdish special forces team from Sulaymaniyah, which had to travel about two hours to reach the scene.
BAGHDAD — A series of attacks on Sunday against markets, shopping areas and auto repair shops in largely Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad killed at least 45 people and wounded dozens more, the police and medical officials said.
The first bombing on Sunday hit the Amil neighborhood in western Baghdad around 7:30 a.m. in a crowded shopping district near a bus stop, killing at least six people and wounding 19 others.
Later, a car bomb exploded on a street filled with factories and car repair shops in Baya, a neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding 20, the police said.
“I got in a car accident and I came here to fix my car, but now my car is more damaged and I am wounded,” said Saad al-Temimi, who was being treated for injuries suffered in the Baya explosion. “Now I need to fix myself and the car. I hate Sundays, and I hate myself being here!”
Other bombings struck markets in the largely Shiite neighborhoods of Karada, Ghadir, Husseiniya, Sadr City, Sab al-Bor and Al Ameen al-Thaniya, killing 26 people and wounding more than 59, the police and medical workers said.
A bomb exploded on a main road in Radhwaniya, a Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad, killing two people and wounding eight, the police said.
On Sunday afternoon, a roadside bomb went off on the main road in Taji, in northern Baghdad, that links the capital to Iraq’s northern provinces. The bomb exploded near a car repair shop, killing four people and wounding dozens.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s violence, but insurgents, many of them with links to Al Qaeda, have frequently attacked civilians in an effort to undermine the Shiite-led government.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for new security officers, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said that “the time of militias and gangs is over” and that the government would continue to fight the insurgents, down to “the last rebel.”
Al Qaeda linked group says it attacked Iraqi mall, police HQ-SITE BAGHDAD Thu Dec 5, 2013 12:32pm EST
(Reuters) – A group linked to al Qaeda said it was behind suicide attacks on an Iraqi police intelligence headquarters and shopping mall in the northern city of Kirkuk, the SITE monitoring group said on Thursday, citing a communique.
Gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the two sites in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, late on Wednesday. They killed 11 people and wounded 70, police and medical sources said.
Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed the six-man suicide raid, according to a statement circulated on jihadi forums and social media, SITE said.
Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to al Qaeda have regularly used such attacks on targets linked to Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government and security services since the start of 2013.
ISIL operates on both sides of the porous Iraqi-Syrian border. In Syria ISIL is fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and has taken advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held areas to assert itself over more moderate elements of the armed opposition.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday that ISIL had executed an Iraqi cameraman in a rebel-held part of northern Syria.
Iraqi police said two suicide bombers armed with sniper rifles entered the shopping complex in Kirkuk late on Wednesday, took control of it and captured around 15 shoppers as hostages.
After a gun battle, one suicide bomber blew himself up and the other was shot dead by Kurdish security forces who took over the operation from local police. One hostage was wounded, police said.
“I was inside my home when there was a big explosion, our house was shaking and the windows shattered,” said a man living next to the mall who gave his name as Abu Ahmed.
He saw several attackers carrying weapons heading towards the center. “Dozens of women, men and children went out and some of them came to my house,” he said, adding he heard
a gun battle which continued into the night.
Iraqi state television showed smoke billowing from the building after security forces detonated additional bombs the attackers had left inside the complex.
Earlier on Wednesday suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a nearby police intelligence headquarters, killing at least six people and wounding dozens more.
Areas around Kirkuk are strongholds of al Qaeda, according to security officials, in a region which both the central government and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan claim as theirs, making a coordinated police response difficult.
On Tuesday, 12 people were killed in two similar attacks in northern Iraq targeting a government complex and a police building.
(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Writing by Sylvia Westall; editing by Keiron Henderson)
PHILADELPHIA – Erik Prince – the founder of the private security firm once known as Blackwater – embarked on a publicity tour here on Friday, defending mercenaries as intrinsic to the birth of the United States and lashing out at the federal government that he believes unfairly persecuted him.
In a talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia to promote his new book, “Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror,” Prince seemed uninterested in image rehabilitating, preferring instead a dose of bravado and score-settling.
If Prince’s Blackwater still existed and had been in charge of U.S. diplomatic security in Libya, he said, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens would not have died in the September 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi.
Prince said mercenaries are invaluable and as old as America – a country “founded by private companies.”
“The Jamestown colony was actually a publicly traded company on the London stock exchange, and they hired a guy like John Smith, who was a professional soldier, to come and protect the colony,” he said.
Prince has never acknowledged that Blackwater was at fault for controversies that arose during its troubled but lucrative run during the 2000s providing protection to U.S. diplomats, training Afghan police for the Pentagon or, in Prince’s own words, acting as “a virtual extension” of the CIA. In recent interviews, he has evinced unapologetic pride in his company’s work, which boomed after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, earning Blackwater billions of dollars in government contracts. Blackwater became infamous after its contractors killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad intersection in 2007.
On Friday, the only outward sign that one of the most controversial figures in modern U.S. warfare had arrived in town was the half-dozen protesters braving the early morning chill in scarves, skull masks and Vietnam War veteran shirts to greet Prince.
“This guy is a person of interest in homicide, money laundering and trafficking of women,” said Jody Dodd, 56, a paralegal at a Philadelphia law firm who was among the protesters. “This city on a regular basis detains young African-American men on less of a basis than this guy.”
Since leaving Blackwater in 2010, Prince has launched the Frontier Resource Group, an Abu Dhabi-based private equity firm that he said would focus on logistics and mining. He has also recently surprised some observers by calling for cuts to the same “bloated” U.S. defense budget that helped make him rich.
Prince, whose father founded an auto parts company and died unexpectedly soon after Prince became a Navy SEAL in the 1990s, said on Friday that Blackwater was his attempt to spur innovation in the private security industry in the same way his father had responded to more efficient Japanese companies decades earlier.
“No one had ever done it on an industrial scale,” Prince said, comparing Blackwater to an assembly line. “It was almost a Toyota-(style) linear flow.”
By Prince’s metric, Blackwater performed flawlessly at keeping U.S. government officials safe – even as its employees, in his view, received little acknowledgement for the dangers they faced. No government employee or VIP under Blackwater’s protection was ever killed, Prince said, though 41 of its own employees died in action and hundreds were wounded.
Shortly before Prince left, in 2009, Blackwater renamed itself Xe Services, then changed its identity once again, in 2010, to Academi. Only around 10 instructors from the Blackwater era remain with Academi.
In Prince’s telling, Blackwater’s fall came after it was unfairly maligned in the media and persecuted by the U.S. government. Indictments and subpoenas against its top officials came at the prodding of politicians with a grudge against Prince, he said, even though his contractors were doing the job they had been given.
In Iraq, he said, Blackwater troops guarding employees of nongovernmental organizations always used dashboard-mounted cameras on their vehicles to document any possible confrontations. But the State Department refused to allow those cameras on its missions, making it difficult, he said, for contractors to prove what happened during a confrontation. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Prince claimed that State Department requirements to protect its personnel at all costs forced his troops to behave aggressively.
During the deadly confrontation in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, a Blackwater team shot and killed an Iraqi woman and her sons as they drove toward the square. The contractors then ignited the woman’s car with a flare or sound grenade, prompting return fire from Iraqi police and soldiers as the contractors continued to shoot into the crowd. Fourteen unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed and 18 wounded, precipitating the beginning of the end of Blackwater’s work in Iraq. One Blackwater contractor pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2008 and after a long investigation, four others now face recently refiled charges in federal court in Washington, D.C.
According to Prince, FBI investigators and doctors treating victims of the firefight found AK-47 rounds in Blackwater vehicles and the bodies of wounded Iraqis, apparently indicating that men other than Blackwater troops had fired that day. On Friday, he compared the incident to the shooting death near the U.S. Capitol last month of an unarmed 34-year-old woman who had been driving erratically and rammed into security barricades. Police fired at the car as the woman’s child lay in the back seat.
The officers who chased and killed the woman were applauded, Prince said.
“I cannot even imagine the hue and cry if contractors were doing that job instead of uniformed employees of the government,” he said.
To critics, Blackwater got off easy. In 2005, the top security official at the U.S. embassy declined to investigate a separate incident involving Blackwater guards who fired 70 rounds into an Iraqi’s car. According to documents released to USA Today in 2009, the official suggested that an investigation would have “lowered the morale” of the contractors.
U.S. officials who faced grilling by Congress in 2007 defended the government’s reliance on contractors such as Blackwater, saying they could not possibly protect employees with full-time government security personnel alone. “There is no alternative except through contracts,” Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, said in 2007.
But the Nisour Square incident proved to be too much, and Blackwater lost its license to provide security in Iraq when it expired two years later. In 2008, Blackwater’s pitch to sell the U.S. military an armored personnel carrier called “the Grizzly” was rejected by the Army. Prince viewed the move as a politically motivated slap, and he stepped down as CEO the following year.
“It’s a good lesson, it’s a painful lesson in selling anything to the (Defense Department) that they’re really incapable of making a truly merit-based decision. There is way too much politics involved in it,” Prince said of the Grizzly episode.
New work in Africa
Speaking on Friday, Prince recalled an eight-week training course that Blackwater had administered for Afghanistan’s border guards. The Afghan men were so uneducated, he said, that the contractors had to teach “intro to toilet use.” But Blackwater, he said, provided the troops with fuel, electricity, batteries and the training they had lacked.
“I would speak at some of these (border guards) graduations and I would say, ‘Look, we’re happy to be here, we’re happy to help train you, because you’ve been suffering under war for 30 years and enough is enough,’” Prince said. “’And we’re happy to be part of that solution trying to help you live a peaceful life,’ and whether that’s in Iraq or in Afghanistan, that’s the goal we’re after.”
Today, with the fate of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan unclear, violence there is rising and the Taliban remains strong. Blackwater’s eight-week training course and the supplies it provided may not have done much to advance an Afghan vision of a solution.
But Prince – who said he had grown unhappy with government “haranguing” and a “blizzard of subpoenas” – has moved on. He now plans to direct the Frontier Resource Group’s investments in “energy, mining, agriculture and logistic opportunities,” in Africa.
“We’re very excited about Africa,” he told the audience. “It can again be the breadbasket of the world.”
As the talk finished, a long line of attendees formed to ask Prince to sign their books. Several protesters, after quietly entering the auditorium and being asked to leave by security guards, shouted from the rear: “Psychopath! War criminal!” Prince smiled and signed a book.
Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed with the Iranian Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, the prospects of mutual cooperation between Iraq and Iran.
A statement by the PM’s office received by IraqiNews.com cited “Maliki, during his meeting with the Supreme Guide of the Iranian Revolution Ali Khamenei in the Iranian Capital, Tehran, stressed the importance of developing bilateral relations to the highest levels,” noting that “We have not started a new phase but we continue an existing work and the discussions will develop these relations.”
“The Iranian Supreme Guide appreciated the Iraqi official stances and efforts to overcome challenges,” the statement added, noting that “We do not have any limits for cooperation between Iraq and Iran.”
Maliki has arrived in Tehran on Wednesday and started a series of discussions with the Iranian officials and leaders there.
ISTANBUL — The sharp, dry mountains that run between Turkey and Iraq have long marked a front line in the battle between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists where cross-border attacks took many lives on both sides.
Even as sectarian killing is again spiking across Iraq, and the Syrian civil war destabilizes the region, American officials in Baghdad say the flow of oil to Turkey may be the greatest potential risk to Iraq’s cohesion.
But a year-and-a-half-long diplomatic drive by the United States to stop the flow has so far failed, reflecting Washington’s diminished influence in the region, even with its two longtime allies. Not only will trucks continue to travel daily from the Kurdish region to two Turkish cities on the Mediterranean coast, and not only will the Kurds continue to deliver oil via a pipeline to Turkey, but the parties plan to build a second pipeline, whose details have been kept secret.
“The Kurdistan deal with Turkey is a huge violation against the Iraqi Constitution because they didn’t make the deal with the coordination of the central government,” said Ali Dhari, the deputy chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s oil and gas committee. “This means the stealing of the Iraqi wealth, and we will not allow it.”
The oil accords with Turkey, potentially worth billions of dollars, are part of a broader effort by Iraqi Kurds in recent years to cut their own energy deals — including exploration agreements with foreign companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Gazprom — that sidelined the central government. The Kurds, and the Turks, say they will pay Baghdad its fair share. But officials in the capital have long claimed such arrangements are illegal.
The controversy is in part the unfinished business of the American occupation of Iraq. The failure of the Iraqi government to pass a national oil law, one of the benchmarks set by President George W. Bush when he announced the United States troop “surge” in 2007, has left Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital, in a perpetual feud over how to divide profits and who has the authority to make agreements with international oil companies.
Qasim Mishkhati, a Kurdish member of Parliament’s oil and gas committee, insisted that the wealth from the deals would be shared with the rest of Iraq, and that it was the responsibility of the regional government in the north to find international markets for its oil resources. “Kurdistan is working to increase the national income so that all Iraqis can enjoy better services and more wealth,” he said.
Although the mechanism for such payments has not been worked out, the Turks and the Kurds have indicated that they would adhere to the existing proportions for the division of national revenue, meaning Baghdad would receive 83 percent of the net profit and the Kurds would keep 17 percent.
But the alarm in Baghdad and Washington has grown with these oil deals, which appear to be part of a slow, long-term strategy by the Iraqi Kurds to pursue a path of increasing autonomy that experts say has one endgame: an independent Kurdish state.
Tens of millions of Kurds live in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, and they have long held ambitions for independence that for decades were thwarted. Now, amid the turmoil of the Middle East, Kurdish leaders are taking decisive steps to advance that dream, not just in Iraq, but also in Syria, where Kurdish factions recently declared an autonomous administration in the northeast.
The Iraqi Kurds run their own autonomous and relatively prosperous region in northern Iraq, control their own ports of entry, field their own army and intelligence service and conduct their own foreign policy. The Kurdish region also has separate visa rules, so an American, for instance, might wait weeks or months to secure a visa to Baghdad, but could buy one at the airport in Erbil. The region has also served as a safe haven for Sunni officials looking to escape the reach of the Shiite-led government, including former Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, accused in 2011 of terrorism.
But the oil deals also highlight the drastic reshaping of regional alliances in the past few years. In 2003 Turkey, worried that the American invasion of Iraq would promote Kurdish independence, forbade American troops to use its territory to enter Iraq.
But now Turkey is in the process of making peace with its own Kurds, who have waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state with bases in Iraq. In a region where Turkey has few allies these days, the Iraqi Kurds have become close partners.
For Turkey, though, the energy deals with Iraqi Kurdistan, which include oil and natural gas, underscore a persistent national challenge to secure reliable supplies of energy for its economy. Turkey boasts the Middle East’s largest economy but has few domestic energy sources. It has historically relied on two countries for the bulk of its energy — Russia and Iran — and a national priority for Turkey has been to diversify its sources of oil and gas.
The only place in the world where demand for energy is growing faster than Turkey is in China, and the only people who pay more for gasoline at the pump than Turks are Norwegians. In Turkey it can cost more than $120 to fill the tank of a compact car because of high taxes the government has levied in an effort to keep demand down
While Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish regional government have slowly expanded their relationship in the past few years, they have recently agreed to something ambitious and broader: a multibillion-dollar pact that includes the building of the second pipeline, according to press reports and oil executives involved in the negotiations.
That deal comes as Turkish and Iraqi government officials have recently sought to mend ties that had soured in recent years, an effort that included a visit to Baghdad on Sunday by Turkey’s energy minister, who indicated Turkey would try to win Baghdad’s support for the deals with the Kurds. Turkey had supported the Sunni Muslim opposition in Iraq, angering the Shiite leadership that dominates the government in Baghdad.
“There has been a rapprochement between Ankara and Baghdad, but what I see in the energy policy of Turkey relating to Kurdistan still seems to be a fly in the ointment for the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad,” said Badr H. Jafar, the chairman of the Pearl Petroleum consortium, the largest private oil and gas investor in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The recent steps taken to improve the relationship between Turkey and Iraq — a reconciliation pushed by the Americans — now seem to be the best bet, analysts said, to achieve an agreement on an elusive national oil law to divide the country’s vast petroleum profits.
The Iraqi Kurdish leadership “is positioning itself for greater autonomy in negotiations with Baghdad, but as relations between Ankara and Baghdad continue to warm it is inconceivable that the K.R.G. will be allowed to export to Turkey without Baghdad’s consent,” said David L. Goldwyn, the State Department’s coordinator for international energy affairs during the first term of the Obama administration, referring to the initials for the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
Turkey, though, has said it will ensure that the government in Baghdad will be paid for any oil it imports from Kurdistan in accordance with Iraq’s revenue-sharing arrangement.
“If done correctly, these deals have the potential to generate huge revenues for Iraq, distributed by the Iraqi government in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution and for the ultimate benefit of the Iraqi people, including of course, the Kurdish region,” Mr. Jafar said.
BAGHDAD — Militants attacked a police building in the northern city of Kirkuk on Wednesday, and after being repulsed some of them stormed a nearby shopping center and took hostages, the authorities said.
A suicide bomber set off an explosive device at the entrance to the building, which houses a police intelligence unit. Security forces, however, killed two other suicide bombers, according to the police.
Other militants involved in the attack then moved to the Jawahir Mall, about 100 yards from the intelligence building, and a gun battle with the police unfolded.
At least 22 people were taken hostage, though 11 of them were later freed as security forces took the first and second floors of the mall, according to police sources. At least six people were killed and 40 others were wounded. Gunfire could be heard inside the building during an eight-hour siege.
Other hostages were still being held on the third floor of the mall, according to Abdul Amir al-Zaydi, an official of the Iraqi central government. He added that the number of hostages still being held was unclear.
Iraq’s self-ruling Kurds agreed to let the central government in Baghdad control the amount and quality of crude they export as well as manage revenue from its sale, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi said.
The Kurdistan Regional Government will export oil using a metering system operated by the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, Luaibi told a news conference yesterday in Vienna. The Kurds also agreed to put money earned from the sale of oil from Kurdish fields into a UN-administered account for Iraq’s earnings from crude, he said.
The agreement may herald an end to years of confrontation between Iraq’s Kurds and the central government. It may lead to a formal accord this month under which Kurdish authorities resume oil shipments via Iraq’s government-run export pipeline to neighboring Turkey, Luaibi said. The KRG halted the flow last December in a dispute with the central government over how to share oil revenue. Even so, Luaibi’s comments shed little light on how the agreement conforms with what may be a separate deal between the KRG and Turkey.
“It’s still very vague and unclear what’s been agreed to,” said Robin Mills, the head of consulting at Manaar Energy Consulting and Project Management in Dubai. “The most unclear issue in all of this is how payments will be handled.”
Mills, who spoke by phone from Iraq’s Kurdish city of Erbil, said KRG officials he met with there declined to divulge details of any agreements they have with Turkey. Iraq has rejected efforts by the KRG to reach a separate accord with Turkey to start exporting crude by the end of the year, using a new pipeline in the Kurdish region.
The Kurds have signed an energy agreement with Turkey, Nechirvan Barzani, the KRG’s prime minister, said Dec. 2 at a conference in Erbil. Luaibi declined yesterday to comment directly on reports about such a deal, saying only that Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz confirmed to him that no accord exists yet between Turkey and the Kurds.
“Everyone’s got their own version” of whether the KRG and Turkey have formally agreed to anything, Mills said. “My take is that there are some agreements, but not everything is in place yet to resolve all issues.”
International companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Total SA, DNO International ASA and Genel Energy Plc have been caught up amid turmoil between Iraq’s central government and the semi-autonomous KRG.
Iraq’s understanding with the KRG will help the country boost crude shipments next year to 3.4 million barrels a day on average, a daily rate that would include 400,000 barrels from the Kurdish region, Luaibi said. Technical teams from Baghdad and the KRG will meet “very soon” to work out details, he said.
Iraq, the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, exported 2.4 million barrels a day in November, according to the Oil Ministry. The Kurds have been sending as much as 50,000 barrels a day by truck into Turkey. They plan to start pumping about 300,000 barrels to Turkey using their new internal pipeline before the end of this year, KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami said Oct. 31. The Kurds are targeting exports of 1 million barrels a day.
“Without a payment plan in place, no one can commit to a full-scale development of the oil fields, which is what is really needed if the Kurdish government is to reach its target,” said Mills, the consultant.
Companies from Turkey, which has been trying to ease tensions between Iraq’s government and the Kurds, may help complete a pipeline from Iraq’s southern province of Basra, Luaibi said. This “strategic pipeline” may be ready within a few months, with a capacity for 850,000 barrels a day, including 500,000 barrels a day for export, he said.
Iraq will install two additional single-point tanker-mooring units by February to contribute to its oil exports southward from the Persian Gulf, Luaibi said. The country is operating two mooring units and will have a fifth as a spare, he said. Work on the new units won’t affect exports, Luaibi said.
Iraq has 150 billion barrels of proven crude reserves, excluding deposits in the Kurdish region, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy of June 2013. The KRG estimates its own reserves at 45 billion barrels, enough to meet U.S. needs for almost seven years.