CATF Reports Mar. 16, 2016, 10:35am


On March 12, ISIS militants attacked a small town – Taza Khurmatu – in Iraqi Kurdistan with salvos of mustard gas, injuring more than 400 people. In a bombardment recalling Saddam Hussein’s massacre of civilians in Halabjah (using deadly Sarin gas) ISIS managed to sink even deeper into unplumbed levels of infamy. Two days later, a well executed Kurdish Peshmerga retaliatory attack against an ISIS chemical weapons manufacturing plant could not overtake the reality that Islamic State terrorists were resorting to genocidal tools to make their point. According to a regional military spokesman, “the Peshmerga army hit the facility with dozens of heavy artillery shells” and “huge explosions followed the bombardment.”

ISIS’ use of chemical weapons has thrown a definite chill into seasoned military and intelligence observers because mustard gas attacks could signal a dangerous escalation in battles to retake lands wrested from ISIS control by skilled Peshmerga fighters. Until precious oil flows were restored this week in Iraqi Kurdistan, analysts were growing increasingly worried about the inability of the Peshmerga command and control apparatus to sustain their expensive military operations. In fact, speculation was ripe that a sustained pipeline shutdown could actually bankrupt the highly respected Kurdish security apparatus – on which the U.S. and allies have increasingly come to depend – crippling the Obama Administration’s campaign to rely on indigenous forces to topple ISIS.

While the Kurdish regional government has proven to be fully loyal to U.S. interests, there are troubling downside elements to the Kurds’ oil-based independence. Specifically, production of crude in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region totals 612,000 barrels daily, roughly 15% of all Iraqi oil production. That is a part of the autonomy issue, but the core problem is the sale of Kurdistan’s oil to Turkey, which looks to analysts like the creation of an economic alliance eventually leading to Kurdistan’s secession from Iraq. Clearly, control over the key natural resource of oil has raised the ire of Iraqi government leaders who strenuously oppose what is perceived as the next step of absolute Kurdish autonomy. On the brighter side, Kurdish leaders publicly committed to the status quo and for the time being, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi sounds convinced: “the Kurdish leaders that I meet say they don't want disintegration and they don't want to separate.”

With the issue of Kurdish autonomy apparently on hold for now, the U.S. has a dependable ally that remains economically and militarily strong and evinces signs of getting progressively stronger. With defeat of ISIS – or, at least, degradation of its territorial control in Iraq – as the highest priority, the cloud over Iraqi Kurdistan has a very bright silver lining.

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