All’s Fair In Love And War And Oil

By Claude Salhani-

This article was first published in Oilprice.com

An Iraqi Kurdish crude oil tanker has been seen floating off the coast of Israel after offloading its cargo, ship tracking data has shown.

If true, the transaction would be in open defiance of Baghdad, with whom Israel has no diplomatic or commercial relations. Furthermore, any commercial transaction between an Arab country and Israel violates the ruling of the Arab Boycott Bureau that bans all commercial exchanges with the Jewish state.

But it would not be the first time that Kurdish oil has found its way into the Israeli market.

Iraqi Kurdistan, although autonomous, is still in principle supposed to conduct its oil transactions through Baghdad. Selling into the oil market directly and independently of Baghdad provides the Kurds in northern Iraq with much needed funds. It also helps the Kurds move away from Baghdad and toward independence, which it has made no secret of wanting.

This is something that none of Iraq’s neighbors are happy to see, as they each have their own Kurdish minorities who might be tempted to try and follow their Iraqi brethren down the road to independence. Turkey, of course, has a very large problem with its own Kurdish population, as do Syria and Iran, to a lesser degree.

This recent development adds yet another headache to the Iraqi government’s list of monumental problems, starting with the loss of a huge chunk of its territory and authority to the Islamic State, which has declared a new Islamic Caliphate created and managed by a self- proclaimed caliph.

At this point in time, it’s impossible to identify the Kurdish oil’s destination or buyer. A previous delivery of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan occurred last June. While some Arab countries do maintain commercial exchanges with Israel, albeit very discreet ones, officially at least, the Arab world for the most part continues to shun Israel.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has in the past denied selling oil to Israel “directly or indirectly.” They have not commented on news reports of the Israeli shipment.

There have also been numerous rumors in the past of a number of transactions between the Kurds and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several other high-ranking Israeli officials have even publicly expressed support for an independent Kurdistan.

Iraq’s central government in Baghdad has repeatedly called independent Kurdish exports “smuggling,” saying only state marketer SOMO has the right to sell Iraqi oil. The KRG says the Iraqi constitution allows it to sell oil independently.

Angered by the reported sale of oil to Israel, Baghdad has tried repeatedly to prevent the KRG from selling oil to Israel and has cut the Kurds’ budget allotment as punishment. The Kurds have been asking Baghdad to release the funds, which are needed to help in the fight against the Islamic State.

Ship tracking data indicates that the Kamari, the oil tanker in question, switched off its satellite transponder on Aug. 17. Two days later, it reappeared on radar close to the Israeli shore.

More than 7.5 million barrels of Kurdish oil have flowed through the independent pipeline connecting northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Turkish officials and industry sources said the capacity of the Kurdish pipeline has been upgraded to 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) and there are plans to increase it to 250,000 bpd soon.

The Iraqi government has already succeeded in stopping one tanker from reaching its destination; the United Leadership has been idling off the coast of Morocco for almost three months.

 

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Syria 2, Opposition 1, World 0

By Claude Salhani -

The score currently, if one was to keep track of where things stand at the moment in the Syrian civil war would be as follows: Syria 2, Islamists, 1 and the rest of the world 0.

For a short while it was touch-and-go for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syria appeared to be on the brink of collapse and many were the pundits who predicted a rapid end to the rule of the Baath Party and the Assad dynasty. Months, they said, if not weeks, and the regime would fall. That was more that three years ago.

Indeed, the situation appeared dismal; soldiers and officers of the Syrian Army were defecting to the opposition in droves. A competing force called the Free Syrian Army was established and had won the support – at least verbally – from the United States and the European Union.

Promises of sophisticated weaponry to the opposition were given which made it seem as though the regime’s days were numbered.

Additionally, Mr. Assad had managed to upset his powerful neighbor to the north, Turkey, a main powerhouse in the Levant. Syria’s relation with the rest of its neighbors was frosty at best. A number of Syrian ambassadors and diplomats defected to the opposition or simply walked away, not wanting to be associated with the regime.

Damascus and the regime were under siege. Important government buildings were bombed and several high-ranking members of the government were killed.

Today, more than three and a half years after the start of what was widely believed would have been a quick overthrow of the regime, as was the case in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Libya, the war in Syria drags on.

More than 192,000 people have been killed and many, many more maimed, tortured, starved and detained in dismal conditions, and still there is nary an end in sight.

The latest figures from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has estimated that some 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of violence started in March 2011. That is almost half the population of Syria’s 22 million people.

A recent report published by the UNHCR states that about half of the refugees, some 2.5 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

But the score is currently leaning in favor of Mr. Assad. At the start of the conflict the Syrian president made two predictions.

First, Mr. Assad said that if his government was to falter and fall it would give rise to the Islamists. Many did not believe this and put it off as alarmist thinking to frighten the West into supporting him.

Today as we witness, not only have the Islamists taken over parts of Syria, but the so-called Islamic State has expanded into neighboring Iraq and attempts have already been made to infiltrate Lebanon. In this respect, the Syrian president’s prediction held true and then some.

The second prediction was that if he was to go down, Mr. Assad said he would take down the whole region with him.

The situation has turned around to such an extent that American lawmakers are today reconsidering extending support to the Syrian government and its president.

That clearly puts the score in favor of the regime once again, but at what price?

Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend agency. you can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani

 

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The uglier side of war: the spin-off effects on the social fabric of society

By Claude Salhani -

War, as the American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman so adequately put it, is hell. But hell, as described in Dante’s Inferno, consists of nine different levels, or circles, where the suffering gradually worsens with each descending level.

What the general public typically gets to see of faraway conflicts by ways of the media barely touches the first level of human suffering and the madness of wars, such as the immediate effect of combat on the fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire.

Wars however impact society in different ways, such as the brain drain resulting from massive migration and the long-term effect the loss of intellect in a country will have down the road.

Or the hell of human trafficking, where men and women – usually boys and girls – are regarded not as human beings, but as simple merchandise. Cargo for the pleasures of the flesh.

Not far behind the hellhole of human trafficking is the circle of forced child marriages that are currently happening in the unfolding conflict ravaging Syria and Iraq. Much like the netherworld described by Dante in his unique vision of Hades, each new circle offers additional suffering.

New details on the plight of Syrian refugees in Jordan released by the United Nations raises concerns about an alarming rise in the number of Syrian refugee girls in Jordan being forced into early marriages.

As a British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent reported from the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the region, poverty is forcing some families to effectively sell their daughters, often to much older men.

“There is now an organized trade in young girls,” states the report from the BBC. Their correspondent describes one particular instance where one 13-year-old girl wearing a frilly white dress, a hooded silk cape, and wearing makeup was getting ready to be married to a much older man.

“Earlier, at a makeshift beauty salon, a fellow Syrian refugee curled the girl’s hair and layered make-up on her face – the finishing touches to the end of a childhood,” reads a report filed from the camp by a BBC correspondent.

Almost one third of refugee marriages in Jordan involve a girl under 18, according to UNICEF. In cold figures that is 32 percent, up from 13 percent from prewar figures. UN officials say that most of these child marriages are driven by poverty.

Even with consent of the parents these cases amount to child abuse, said a UNICEF official.

Citing local sources, the BBC reports that the going rate for a bride is between 2,000 and 10,000 Jordanian dinars — $2,800 to $14,000, with another $1,000 to $1,400 going to the broker.

Many of these young teenage brides are sold by their families to rich Gulf Arabs, and end up abandoned once they become pregnant. Often, the families that sold their daughters so as to lessen the financial strain of caring for them, end up with their daughter returning with yet another mouth to feed.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend agency

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Islamic State takes region back to the Middle Ages

By Claude Salhani -

The group known as the Islamic State that is fighting to install an Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq – as a first step to expanding that caliphate – has made time travel a possibility.

Indeed, through their worse-than medieval manners of beheadings and crucifixions, torture and mass executions and the selling of captured women as slaves, they have managed to transport the areas under their dominance from a modern era of satellite imagery and stellar communications into a dark, bottomless abyss of savagery and orgies of evil probably not seen since the days when barbarians were at the gates of Rome.

Today similar bloodthirsty barbarians are knocking at the gates of modern civilization, threatening the very concept of the fragile world we live in.

Had the Internet and video recording existed in the days of the Goths, Vizigoths and the Ostrogoths they probably would have behaved similarly to the IS; video recording their monstrous acts and proudly displaying it on the Internet.

The Islamic State’s latest abominable act of brutality comes in the beheading of an American journalist, James Foley, who has been held captive in Syria since 2012, a deed that was recorded on video.

The IS claims that the killing of James Foley is in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of several of their positions in Iraq. It must also mean that these bombings have hurt them. In their utter ignorance the group fails to realize that individual Americans, like James Foley, have no say in U.S. foreign policy.

These “knights” of a hijacked faith are poisoning a decent religion with their interpretation of Islam.

Forcing a captive to “denounce” his country requires no bravery on the part of the captors. Rather it reveals the low level of their understanding of reality.

The result of this hideous act will not prevent future bombings of IS positions by the U.S. military.

Indeed, it may very well have the opposite effect as the Obama Administration understands that there can be no mid-way solution to the plague that this new stigma represents, not only for decent followers of Islam, but for the whole civilized world.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend Agency.

Follow him at on Twitter @ClaudeSalhani

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Oil Companies Turning Away From The Middle East

This story was first published in Oilprice.com

By Claude Salhani

The violence and cutthroat politics of the Middle East, combined with declining oil and gas production levels, has triggered a subtle but significant shift away from what has long been the center of the energy industry to other regions around the world.

The overall geopolitical situation in the Middle East has been deteriorating since the first major war between Arabs and Israelis in 1948. Conflicts are becoming more violent, weapons used are deadlier, and the number of casualties keeps rising. The two most recent conflicts in the region –the war in Gaza between Palestinians and Israelis — claimed the lives of some 2,000 Palestinians and about 60 Israeli soldiers. The incredible slaughterhouse that is a mixture of civil war, religious conflict and social economic conflagration taking place today in Syria and Iraq bears witness to the frightening level of mounting violence every time a conflict resumes in the troubled region.

Despite the fact that the Arabian Gulf region still has the greatest concentration of oil and gas fields anywhere in the world — oil and gas that is easy to harvest and therefore inexpensive to extract and bring to market, giving oil companies a wider profit  — the price of war and never-ending conflict has begun giving oil majors serious pause. The cost of doing business in a war zone also requires expenditures that in other areas would not normally exist, such as security for personnel and equipment.

Taken together, the challenges of doing business in the Middle East is forcing companies to weigh the advantage of easily mineable resources against the disadvantage of working in conflicted areas.

On top of that, the region’s production and share of the market is in decline, according to a Reuters report published in Arab News.

In 2013, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, countries in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula East “accounted for almost 33 percent of global oil production and 17 percent of gas output.” But those numbers represent a three-year flat line after years of increases.

Middle East oil and gas producers are also increasingly worried about the decline in oil reserves worldwide of production from their areas. It was 48 percent in 2013 — a significant drop from 2005, when it was 56 percent. In 1993, it was 64 percent.

In the 20-year period between 1993 and 2013, oil and natural gas reserves originating from the Middle Eastern counted for just 1 percent, compared to 4.2 percent from the rest of the world.

Overall production by the Arab oil powerhouses has been slowing in recent years, including in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, considered to be the cornerstones of the Arabian Gulf.

It all adds up to a subtle but significant shifting of the center of the oil and gas universe toward Africa, Asia, and North and South America.

Central Asia  — especially Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan— also seem to be well positioned to attract new business. Additionally, there have been huge recent discoveries off the coast of Southern Africa, as well as off the coast of West Africa and Latin America.

As the Reuters report says, “Advances in horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, seismic surveying and deepwater drilling have opened a much broader global oil and gas resource base, giving exploration and production companies many more options.”

Oil and gas companies are increasingly taking those options.

 

 

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U.S. Airstrikes Against IS Won’t Be Enough

This story was first published in Oilprice.com

By Claude Salhani

The followers of the new so-called Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, have been on the rampage again this week, wreaking havoc and sowing death and destruction across Iraq. If U.S. President Barack Obama isn’t clear enough on the dangers presented by the fighters to the people in Iraq and Syria, perhaps he will understand the danger in allowing the Islamists control of Iraq’s and Syria’s oil facilities.

The U.S. president made it clear over this past weekend that the American military intervention in Iraq is purely “for humanitarian reasons” and to protect U.S. military personnel deployed in the region. Then he left Washington, D.C. for his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

Ordering the U.S. military into action in Iraq is certainly a step in right direction. But it’s a small step without a coherent policy to back it up. Besides the imminent danger posed by the advance of the IS fighters to all minority groups — against whom the Islamist fighters do not shy away from displaying the greatest brutality possible — allowing revenue-generating oil and gas facilities to fall under their control will dramatically worsen the threat.

The president directed the U.S. Air Force to bomb a certain number of targets in Iraq to aid refugees running away from the hoards of IS fighters and to prevent IS fighters getting too close to some of the 800 U.S. advisers on the ground.

These measures are far from sufficient. It is a Band-Aid, when what is needed is major surgery.

“The president made it clear this was to avert the humanitarian crisis and to protect American military personnel,” said Sen. John McCain, a leading Obama opponent.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain added, “That’s not a strategy, that’s not a policy. That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem which is metastasizing as we speak.”

Obama is treading carefully perhaps because he does not want to infuriate the group that has turned into the most dangerous of terrorist groups in the world. Images and video released by the Islamic State shows hideous recordings of prisoners being tortured, mistreated and executed. Many of the videos show Islamic militants promising to bring their battle to the West.

Indeed, when he was released from a U.S. detention center in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told one of the U.S. officers in charge of the center, “I will see you in New York.”

Obama’s directives are insufficient because sooner or later the United States will have to face the rising threat of the Islamic State, head on. Al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “emir” of the self-declared Islamic Caliphate, has said this himself.

These fighters are committed to eventually turn their attention to the United States. They will strike in the U.S. regardless of how many bombs are dropped on them. Think of IS as an angry wasp nest that has been disturbed. You know very well that unless you kill them, they will attack you.

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What President Obama needs to understand about ISIS

By Claude Salhani- Trend:

U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear over this past weekend that the U.S. military intervention in Iraq was purely “for humanitarian reasons” and to protect U.S. military personnel deployed in the region. Satisfied that all else was well with the state of the world, Obama left Washington, D.C. for his summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.
Obama directing the U.S. military to act in Iraq is certainly a step in right direction. The problem (one of them at least), is hoping the president can remain focused on the ambulant disaster that is the state of Iraq and the state of Syria as chaos reigns with the Islamic State running affairs of state.

The president directed the U.S. Air Force to bomb a certain number of targets in Iraq. Targets were limited to the hoards of IS fighters getting too close to some refugees running away from the Islamic State advances, or to safeguard the U.S. military advisers that were recently dispatched to Iraq. To date some 800 U.S. military advisers are in Iraq.
These are far from sufficient and will hardly contain the rising threat and influence posed by fighters of the Islamic State. These measures are short of a Band-Aid when what is needed is major surgery.

“The president made it clear this was to avert the humanitarian crisis and to protect American military personnel,” said Sen. John McCain, who is a leading opponent of President Obama’s policy -or rather lack thereof.
Speaking of Obama’s foreign policy on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain added: “That’s not a strategy, that’s not a policy. That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem which is metastasizing as we speak.”

Perhaps the reason Obama is treading carefully is because he does not want to upset the group that has turned into the most dangerous of terrorist groups in the world. Images and video released by the Islamic State shows hideous recordings of prisoners being tortured, mistreated and executed. Many of the videos show Islamic militants promising to bring their battle to the West.

Indeed, when he was released from a U.S. detention center in Iraq, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, told one of the U.S. officers in charge of the center, “I will see you in New York.”
Obama’s directives are insufficient because sooner or later the United States will have to face the rising threat of the Islamic State, head on. How do we know that? Simple. Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “emir” of the self-declared Islamic Caliphate has said so himself.

The group’s fighters are committed to eventually turn their attention to the United States and whether they are targeted selectively or massively is irrelevant. They will strike in the UK regardless of how many bombs are dropped on them. Think of them as an angry wasp you have disturbed. You know very well that unless you kill it, it will come back and attack you. The same is true for IS.

“There needs to be a more comprehensive strategy rooted in the security interests of the United States,” Gen. James Dubik told The Washington Times.

Dubik oversaw the training of the Iraqi army during the latter part of the U.S. mission, which ended in 2011. “The key security problem facing the U.S. is the creation there of an Islamic state, basically a sanctuary for terrorists – the very sanctuary that we’ve been fighting for 13 years now to prevent,” said the general.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend Agency.
Follow him at on Twitter @ClaudeSalhani

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