Insights behind U.S. intervention in northern Iraq

Besides rescuing Yazidis, who are ethnically identified as Kurds, Erbil was another main cause that drew President Obama back to combat in northern Iraq, two and a half years after he fulfilled a campaign pledge and pulled the last troops out.

Erbil is the capital of the oil-endowed Kurdish Regional Government, in northern Iraq. There the United States built political alliances and equipped Kurdish peshmerga militias, and since 2003 it has been the most stable place in an unstable country.

[View maps of Iraq, including location of Erbil, Sinjar mountains, ISIS control etc]

A secure Kurdistan could provide sanctuary for those fleeing ISIS. “The Kurdish region is functional in the way we would like to see,” Obama explained in a fascinating interview with Thomas Friedman. “It is tolerant of other sects and other religions in a way that we would like to see elsewhere. So we do think it is important to make sure that that space is protected.”

Obama’s advisers explained to reporters that Erbil holds an American consulate, and that “thousands” of Americans live there. The city has to be defended, they continued, lest ISIS overrun it and threaten American lives. Fair enough, but why are thousands of Americans in Erbil these days? It is not to take in clean mountain air.

ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the many oil and gas firms large and small drilling in Kurdistan under contracts that compensate the companies for their political risk-taking with unusually favorable terms.  The status quo in Kurdistan also includes oil production by international firms, as it might be candid to mention.

[Read full “New Yorker” article]