The letter from the SFRC’s top Democrat and top Republican represents a bipartisan call for more serious action
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Sen. Robert Menendez (D, New Jersey), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), along with the Committee’s top Republican, Sen. James Risch (Oklahoma), wrote a joint letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday, calling on the Biden administration to provide more support to the #Kurdistan Region.#
Three Key Issues
The senators outlined three key issues. One is the dispute with Baghdad over energy resources in the Kurdistan Region. The second is discrimination by Baghdad against U.S. energy companies operating in the Kurdistan Region. And the third concerns Iran: its attacks, whether direct or by proxies, on energy infrastructure, as well as Tehran’s interference in Iraqi politics.
“We urgently ask the Administration to engage the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and the Iraqi government at the highest levels to allow for continued energy work in the KRI [Kurdistan Region of Iraq], which is integral to Iraq’s stability and prosperity, and to furthering Iraq’s energy independence,” the two senators wrote.
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s [KRG’s] Representative in the United States, warmly welcomed the senators’ letter and thanked all those involved, including the Kurdish-American Congressional Caucus, for supporting the views which it expresses.
The letter raises serious concern about how elements in Baghdad, in coordination with Iran, are trying to undermine the stability of the Kurdistan Region. Many people in Washington, who had thought that Iraq could just muddle through, now recognize that a significant problem exists.
It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will react, but the letter from the SFRC’s top Democrat and top Republican represents a bipartisan call for more serious action.
Failings of Iraq’s Supreme Court
Iraq’s post-2003 constitution stipulates a federal system, which provides for considerable autonomy in the Kurdistan Region, including its own government and parliament.
Nonetheless, last February, Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that the KRG had to turn over its oil production to the federal government in Baghdad. The KRG and Kurdistan parliament strongly protested the ruling.
More recently, the Irish-American scholar, Brendan O’Leary, the Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, whose expertise includes federalism and power-sharing, explained to a Washington audience that Iraq’s Supreme Court was itself illegal, as it was not formed in accord with the post-Saddam constitution.
“The constitution required such a court to come into existence with a two-thirds resolution, in a law by the Council of Representatives,” O’Leary explained, but “that has not happened.”
“The court that exists is a court from the transitional period in the handover, from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the government of Ayad Allawi [in 2004],” O’Leary continued. “No law creating the federal Supreme Court has come into existence since the coming into force of the constitution.
The court proceeds to believe that it can make Iraq's constitution out of thin air, he added. What it does is basically ignore Article 115, which gives supremacy to regional laws, where they clash with federal laws.”
In Article 110, there is a list of exclusive federal powers. Oil and gas are not among these exclusive powers, O’Leary affirmed.
Senators Concerned about “Selective Application” of Court Rulings, along with Iranian Pressure
Menendez and Risch explained that they were also concerned that “recent court rulings,” including the Supreme Court’s ruling on the KRG’s Oil and Gas Law No. 22, “are being selectively applied against U.S. energy companies operating in the KRI.”
“The Iraqi Ministry of Oil’s selective application of the Supreme Court ruling to certain U.S. companies, taken together with Iranian attacks on Iraq’s energy infrastructure harms Iraq’s economic viability,” the senators warned.
“Further, the actions of the court and Iranian-sponsored attacks negatively impact the foreign investment climate and Iraq’s ability to become independent from Iranian-sourced energy,” they wrote.
“In parallel with the complex government formation process, it appears Iran is using its influence to put pressure on the KRG while limiting competition in the energy sector,” the senators continued.
They noted that the United States Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has provided over $300 million in loans to energy firms operating in the Kurdistan Region.
“We are particularly concerned about the viability of DFC loans in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling and recent missile attacks,” they wrote, “two of which targeted a $250 million DFC investment” (i.e. the bulk of U.S. loans) “in infrastructure upgrades at the Khor Mor gas field.”
“We urge you immediately to engage at a high level with the KRG and the Iraqi government to safeguard the economic stability of the KRI,” the Senators advised Blinken.
“We hope to see a solution that would ensure that U.S. firms are able to maintain operations in the immediate-term in a manner that complies with the laws of the KRG and the federal Iraqi government while pursuing a workable long-term solution to the court ruling and the broader constitutional dispute,” they wrote.
“The Administration also should seek to capitalize on the President’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Kadhimi and maintain a high tempo of engagement even as government formation drags on,” they said, referring to the ten months that have passed since Iraq’s last elections.
And their letter, significantly, concluded, “We look forward to regular updates from the Administration.”
KRG Warmly Welcomes Menendez-Risch Letter
“We welcome this letter and thank Senators Menendez and Risch for their leadership and support on this urgent matter,” the KRG Representative in Washington told Kurdistan 24.
“We also thank all other members of Congress, including the Kurdish-American Congressional Caucus, who support the sentiments expressed in this important and timely letter,” Abdul Rahman continued, as she voiced appreciation for the “concern expressed by the Administration, Congress, and many others in America, who consider themselves friends of Iraq and Kurdistan and wish for the stability and prosperity of our country.”
“The current situation with regard to the oil and gas dispute is not tenable and puts at risk many great achievements that have served the people of Kurdistan and Iraq as a whole and are in the interests of the wider region and the international energy market,” she added, concluding, “The KRG is committed to abiding by the Iraqi Constitution and to continuing to be the stabilizing factor in Iraq.”
The letter is, in the first place, the product of the strong, bipartisan support in Congress for the people and institutions of the Kurdistan Region, including the KRG.
But as a world power, US responsibilities are extensive, and the agenda of US officials who deal with national security affairs is very crowded. Thus, it can be quite helpful, when Congress is kept informed of critical issues. In this instance, the KRG Representation in Washington was involved in doing so, as were American companies and other concerned organizations.