The best way Iraq can protect its oil industry

A new round of attacks have hit facilities in the country at an already tense time for the energy sector

There have been a number of attacks against Iraqi oil fields recently. AFP
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The situation facing today’s global energy markets is already tough. Now, Iraq, a country that contains close to 10 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves, is having to deal with the constant threat of attacks against its facilities.

In March, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired 12 ballistic missiles at the Kurdistan region, hitting the home of businessman Baz Karim, whose company KAR Group operates the largest oil refinery in the region. Tehran claimed that the site was an Israeli "strategic centre". Militants have at various points been blamed for other attacks in the region.

But last week was especially bad. On Wednesday, two contractors were wounded in a missile attack near the Khor Mor gasfield, also in the Kurdistan region. A second attack took place on Friday, and a third on Saturday. In a statement, Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), stressed the importance of security co-operation with Baghdad to fill the "security vacuum" surrounding the region. Iraqi President Barham Salih said that the assaults are "targeting the country’s stability and hitting the national economy".

Finding a lasting solution to this multifaceted threat is complex, and there is no comprehensive one. Companies and authorities are fortifying sites, but a large part of the threat posed by missiles and drones, even the cheapest ones, is that they are hard to intercept. Swathes of contested ground in the country provide ample launching spots.

There is, however, one elusive requirement that goes deeper than more security forces, reinforced concrete, roadblocks and air defence systems. A key reason Iraq remains powerless in the face of attacks on its interests is political paralysis in Baghdad. National elections took place in October, yet factions are still arguing over the formation of a government. A key aggravating factor is that Iran-backed groups fared badly, which some say is pushing Tehran to use violent intimidation tactics in other regions, such as the KRG.

That is only part of the political problem. Another complication in securing more domestic co-operation in the face of such threats is constitutional and legal disagreements between the KRG and Baghdad over the manner in which the former – a semi-autonomous zone – manages its energy resources with the federal government. Much like with forming a government, no immediate end is in sight, but there is an urgent need for action.

The most pressing work to be carried is not by soldiers, then, but politicians. They are not doing it quickly enough, and history gives little hope that the pace will pick up anytime soon. Until then, there is only so much the country can do to defend itself against destructive elements both at home and abroad. With this in mind, Iraqi politicians from all quarters, should drop internal, tactical and political aims for wider strategic ones. Unity will not end foreign interference, but it will help Iraq stand up to it.

The World Bank says that oil represents more than 40 per cent of the country's GDP, 99 per cent of its exports and more than 90 per cent of government revenue, despite the need to diversify the economy. Those numbers rise above political divisions. They are about the very future of the country, which is already battling terrifying challenges such as water shortages, disease and the risk of increased militant activity, to name only a few.

Published: June 28, 2022, 3:00 AM