Iran Has Its Eyes Set on Iraq Oil and Saudis Follow It

Iran, sensing the increasing international isolation, has long sketched the necessary blueprints to prevent a future already becoming very bleak. For decades Tehran has maintained this entire country and its vast oil reserves in its crosshairs, Iran Freedom reports.

Recent developments in Iraqi Kurdistan prove the Iranian regime’s devious intentions and should alert the international community. The government of Iraq, jockeying to maintain ties with both Washington and Tehran, has unprecedentedly agreed to redirect Kirkuk province’s crude to Iran.

Reuters quoted Iraqi officials and trade sources as saying that under the new arrangement, the first oil will be trucked across the border in the coming days, and Iran will initially receive 15,000 barrels per day worth nearly $1 million, rising gradually to 60,000 bpd. Baghdad and Tehran have also revived a project to build a pipeline from the Kirkuk fields to central Iran and then to ports in the Gulf, according to Hamid Hosseini, Iranian secretary-general of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce.

This oil will be supplying a refinery located in the city of Kermanshah, close to the recently earthquake-struck region. This decision follows the retaking of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Kurds in the notorious shadow of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani.

Considering it its own backyard, Iran has pressed Iraq over an oil pipeline project to ultimately export Kirkuk oil through Gulf ports. Tehran’s ultimate objective is to pump 650,000 bpd of Kurdish oil into refineries across Iran and for export purposes, the report adds citing a senior Iranian official. While the cover story may seem an ordinary economic agreement between two neighboring countries, Tehran cannot deny a malign past of seeking to take advantage of its crisis-riddled western neighbor.

In April 2012 the London-based International Centre for Development Studies confirmed concerns of Iran stealing large amounts of Iraqi oil. Iran’s efforts involved stealing an annual value of $17 billion worth of oil from fields considered mostly Iraqi and not shared between the two oil-exporting rivals, the report indicated. Those fields enjoy a reserve of over 100 billion barrels, with the majority laying inside Iraq. Iran was taking an estimated 130,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day, according to the report.

The Iraqi oil fields of Dehloran, Naft Shahr, Beidar West, and Aban were the victims of this vast plundering. The oil fields of al-Tayeb and Fakka, along with various sections of Majnoun, were also targets of Iranian misuse, adding another 250,000 bpd to the above figure. Iran was stealing a whopping 14 percent of Iraqi oil revenue, depriving this war-ravaged nation of desperately needed funds that Tehran is likely to allocate to notorious belligerence across the region.

Iran has also supported the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a conglomerate of mainly Shiite militia groups. This entity, following Iran’s IRGC paramilitary Bassij prototype, stands accused of smuggling oil from wells across to the country to Iran on a daily basis, according to an April 2017 report citing an Iraqi Oil Ministry source.

On the other hand, it seems that Iraq is not seen as a prey only by Iran. After Syria, Saudi eyes also turn to the next arena: Iraq. Riyadh realizes it has to seek new ways for coping with Iran, and Iraq could be the ticket, particularly to prevent the creation of a Shi’ite land link to Syria.

This rediscovery of Iraq by Saudi Arabia of course isn’t divorced from the kingdom’s overall campaign to block Iran’s influence. Saudi Arabia had a wealth of opportunities to connect to Iraq immediately after the Iraq War, but it preferred to continue punishing Baghdad, which had developed extensive ties with Tehran until it became an Iranian protectorate and Iran became its largest trading partner.

A more interesting aspect was Iran’s consent to the renewed relationship between Iraq and Saudi Arabia which probably reflects Iran’s confidence in Iraq’s commitments to it and its desire to give Iraq Arab legitimacy and thus strengthen its own legitimacy. And anyway, if Saudi Arabia is willing to invest billions in Iraq, by all means – it’s good for Iraq and good for Iran. This is the same approach Iran took with Lebanon, which benefited from huge Saudi investments without this harming Iran’s ability to influence Lebanese policy.

Given the government’s meagre resources, Iraqi Sunnis fear they will be discriminated against – as they were in the past, which pushed many of them into the Islamic State’s corner. This potentially destabilizing factor also has Iran concerned. Thus, paradoxically, Iran may now become the bulwark of the Iraqi Sunnis, not just to stabilize the Iraqi regime, but also to block a Saudi “plot” to embrace the Sunni community and use it as leverage to influence Iraq. Thus another arena of regional conflict could emerge, which wouldn’t bode well.