Oil in the Accidental Countries: Northern Iraq from Mosul Vilayet to Article 140

February 11, 2009 7SSG5092 0844007

Word Count: 3994/4000


It‘s our nature to represent. We‘re the animal that represents, the sole and only maker of maps. And if our weakness has been to confuse the bright and bloody colors of our calendars with the true weather of days, and the parchment‘s territory of our maps with the land spread out before us — never mind. - William Gibson, Memory Palace, 1992.



(Qassem H.J. (2008) Dark Humour – Kirkuk. The New York Times).



On the eve of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, Mishan al-Jabouri was living in an exclusive neighbourhood outside Damascus alongside embassies from small nations. A member of a powerful tribe in his native Iraq, and a beneficiary of Saddam Hussein‘s habit of bribing tribal leaders with watches and automobiles after Kurdish militants killed his father and uncles in the late 1960s, Jabouri sought exile in Syria after Republican Guard members of the Jabouri tribe botched a 1993 attempt on Hussein‘s life (Jabouri, 2007). He saw an opportunity in the Baathist collapse and crossed into Iraq before being met somewhere in Nineveh Province by his ―people‖ (ibid). Kurdistan Democratic Party forces later escorted Jabouri into Mosul where he took over a Republican palace as Mosul fell (Matthews 2003). Local residents rejected the controversial exile‘s attempt to make his way in free Iraq: Some thought him too close to the former regime; others suspected him of being a Coalition plant. An angry crowd threw rocks and set fire to Jabouri‘s car while the aspiring power broker tried to explain the principles of democracy outside a government office (ibid; Jabouri, ibid). After US soldiers opened fire, killing 10 and wounding 35, press reports (Matthews, ibid) suggested that Jabouri may have encountered rival supporters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). In which case, what were Kurds doing jostling for power in Mosul, which not even the godfather of Kurdish territorial maximalism, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, sought to claim in 1970?

Jabouri overcame the snub judging from later appearances as a member of the Council of Representatives in Baghdad. He supported the Iraqi constitutional process while other Sunni Arab leaders were boycotting it, fearing that federalism might devolve into vengeance regionalism by which ―Sunnistan‖ would be made to suffer for lacking oil. Jabouri‘s tenure in Iraq came to an end with an explosive argument on Al-Jazeera after the execution of Saddam



Hussein, in which he praised the former dictator as a martyr and called his debate opponent on the broadcast, a Shia Faili Kurd and political adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a ―Persian shoe‖ (DeYoung 2007). Iraqi parliamentarians stripped Jabouri of immunity from criminal investigation and charged him with stealing roughly $7m per month in reconstruction money entrusted to him for the defence of oil infrastructure in Salahuddin Province (US State Department 2007; Worth and Glanz 2006). While serving as a seemingly conciliatory Sunni lawmaker, Jabouri had also been running a television station (Jabouri, ibid) that evolved into a propaganda outlet for an insurgency group, an unholy alliance of Islamists and Baathists called the Islamic Army of Iraq. In December 2007, Jabouri was back in Damascus, about to be designated as a terrorism-sponsor by the United States (US) Treasury Department. ―I am out of the American game, but I am not out of the Iraqi game,‖ he said (ibid).

If the charges against Jabouri are true, equally as impressive as his support for federal schemes intended to keep Iraq in the basic shape it formally assumed in 1926, is his disruption of the oil industry in what has historically been a centralized, one-resource state. Iraqi oil has proven attractive to insurgents and would-be liberators in recent decades. In the 1970s, Kurdish rebels promised Kirkuk to American companies as a ―golden period‖ (Stansfield 2003, 75) of Kurdish autonomy came to an end. American forces destroyed the Baiji refinery, where Kirkuk oil is processed for export to Turkey, during Operation Desert Storm (Tavernise 2005). More recently, American forces had already bombed the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline (Stratfor 2007) when insurgents first targeted Kirkuk on June 12, 2003 (Hashim 2006, p. 198). The Sunni insurgency would go on to savage the Kirkuk-Baiji pipeline (see Figure 1), by 2008 costing the Iraqi



government $200m annually (Oppel 2008). In one-resource states, oil is power (Galbraith 2006, p. 202). It is often the only game in town.

Figure 1: Iraqi oil infrastructure (International Crisis Group, 2008, p. 36).

The rumoured and proven reserves of northern Iraq have played a significant role in local, national and international disputes to which Iraq and its factions have been a party. These disputes have altered the sectarian geography of northern Iraq and deepened Kirkuk‘s divisions. This paper has three sections. The first discusses the role of soil and oil in British decisionmaking before and after the creation of Iraq, Iraqi Hashemite efforts to settle Arabs in Kirkuk Province, and a 1946 strike in Kirkuk that led the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) to launch a homeownership plan for labourers. The second follows the Iraqi search for an independent oil policy from 1958 to 1973, and the reassertion of central power in the north after one was found.



The final section surveys the post-invasion era, as Kurdish territorial and economic aspirations create new realities on the ground which are nevertheless subject to the basic dynamic of oil disputes in northern Iraq since the beginning, in which geopolitical and local tensions complicate each other, leaving scars that give rise to new rounds fighting over land and the oil beneath it. The story begins, perhaps, when Calouste Gulbenkian noted oil seepages in the Ottoman Empire‘s eastern provinces and produced a report for the Ottoman Ministry of Mines that convinced Sultan Abdulhamid to transfer petroleum revenues from the Treasury to his own privy purse by decree in 1890 and 1899 (Atarodi 2003, p. 30).

An Accidental Country? Had the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement become reality, France and not Britain would have controlled most of Mosul Vilayet, in what is today the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, while Kirkuk – ―a collection of all the races of eastern Turkey – Jew, Arab, Syrian, Armenian, Chaldean, Turk, Turkoman, and Kurd‖ (Packer 2004), according to British intelligence officer E. B. Soane, with mosques, churches and separate groves for Christians, Jews and Muslims, according to a 1919 Royal Air Force map (see Figure 2, Appendix A) – would have gone to the British. Britain saw the region as a buffer between Turkey and Russia, thinking the Great Game would proceed. ―Even Britain‘s claim to Mosul, with the oil riches strongly suspected to exist there, was to be sacrificed in order to place the French in the front line, at a point where the Russians might be expected one day to attack‖ (Fromkin 1989, p.191). However, Britain‘s de Bunsen committee may have already decided on Iraq‘s future shape in 1915 (Schofield 2007, pp. 187-9). Without Baghdad, Basra was a port without a market, while Baghdad could not be defended without Mosul; bundling the three vilayets together might better advance the British goals of keeping the



Persian Gulf a ―British lake‖ (Schofield 2007, pp. 188-9) and protecting India. The question of where Mosul‘s frontier should be located persisted after the war. With the National Pact of 1920 and the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, Mustafa Kemal washed his hands of Ottoman Arabia but insisted that Mosul Vilayet, where ―Ottoman Muslim‖ Kurds were thought to be the majority, should become the south-eastern extremity of Turkey‘s hard-won nation-state (ibid, p. 195). Lamenting it too late to give Mustafa Kemal a share of the Turkish Petroleum Company, Britain considered other ways to preserve Iraq‘s territorial integrity, such as inviting him to visit a British warship to create the impression that Turkey had extracted concessions from Her Majesty‘s Government (Memoranda Concerning the Irak Frontier Dispute, 1925). Historically, though, even the Ottomans had governed Mosul from Baghdad, and British arguments about the two vilayets‘ traditional trade links persuaded the League of Nations when it ruled on Mosul in 1925. If Iraq is an accident of history, its shape was also the product of some deliberation. Kirkuk city nevertheless remained a product of its Ottoman past for years to come. ―Kirkuk city was not without its culture – Turkish and proud of it,‖ writes W.A. Lyon, a British officer who served in Iraq between the wars (Lyon 2002, p. 176). But oil changed the British investment in Iraq, and that investment would eventually transform northern Iraq and Kirkuk.

Early geological surveys indicated that Kirkuk did not possess much oil and that only a company ―‗rich enough to face indifferent success or failure‘‖ should tackle the field (McDowall 1996, p. 135). In 1920, British cabinet ministers however concluded that Iraq‘s economic future depended on Mosul‘s expected reserves (ibid). Joining strategic position among Iraq‘s virtues were the additional reserves that British and American fleets might tap into should the need arise, this when America, the world‘s largest petroleum producer, had recently become a net petroleum



importer (Atarodi, p. 86). Meanwhile, the Iraqi government considered ways to dilute the region‘s ethnic diversity, since, according to Kirkuk memoirist Henry Astarjian, King Faisal was a ―purebred Arab‖ born to nobility in the Hejaz (Astarjian 2007, p.41). In 1921 Feisal launched the Haweeja Project (ibid, p.14), named after a majority Arab district in Kirkuk Province, to transform arid land into farms and settle northern Iraq‘s two largest Arab tribes. Later, left-wing politics complicated the region‘s ethnic profile as the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) appropriated the Kurdish struggle during Mullah Mustafa Barzani‘s Soviet exile. Astarjian, a doctor, worked at K-2 refinery in Baiji. His fellow managers were an ethnic ―microcosm of Kirkuk‖, which made ―conspiracy and collusion‖ impossible (ibid, p.72). But on 3 July 1946 in Kirkuk, IPC labourers gathered in the Grove of the Christians, near the city‘s original Assyrian settlement (ibid, p.72), and went on strike despite a wage-raise just days before. They demanded a higher living allowance, unemployment insurance, and an IPC bus service covering the 1.2km route from town to Arafa (Bird to al-Jamali 1946). In London, British parliamentarians were assured that production continued at normal levels (Parliamentary Questions, 1946) as IPC managers reminded the Iraqi oil ministry that it was losing revenue during the strike (Bird to al-Jamali, ibid). The IPC blamed the strike on Communist agitators, freed from Baghdad jails in a general amnesty after the war, acting with the ―undoubted support of the Soviet legation in Baghdad‖ (Summary of letter to Iraqi Ministry of Fuel and Power, undated). The Great Game had become the Cold War. Local labour politics had been captured by the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the IPC understood that some patriotic workers were genuinely aggrieved. ―Arab, Kurd, alike, even Assyrians‖ were angered by British support for Zionism in Palestine, while Iraqi leaders threatened to punish the IPC should a Jewish state arise. ―General Nur had hinted to London that some of the company‘s concessions would in that case be interfered with,‖ wrote one British



official (Garran 1946). The IPC settled the strike and began to address not only concerns about the ICP‘s growing power in northern Iraqi cities, but Kirkuk‘s looming housing shortage, by launching plans to purchase 600 acres of agricultural land and transform it into company housing. It set the stage for a later showdown with the Iraqi state on the same northern terrain that culminated in the nationalization of Iraqi oil and a brutal assertion of Baathist power through provincial gerrymandering, expulsion and civil war.

The Road to Saddam, 1958-1978 In 1965, Kirkuk sprawled north from the Turkmen centre to IPC facilities in Arafa. ―This is largely due to the IPC homeownership scheme,‖ one official wrote. But all was not well. The official blamed Kirkuk‘s ―economic lull‖ on fighting between Baghdad and Kurds, noting that nearby township administrators had orders to refuse refugees ―while Kirkuk itself is said to have lost many of its Kurdish minority.‖ He also blamed the economic lull on General Qassim‘s ―notorious Law 80‖ of 1961 (Letter to Michael Stewart, 1965). In 1958, General Abd al-Karim Qassim ousted the Hashemite monarchy, pulled Iraq from the Baghdad Pact, and opened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union before trying and failing to negotiate a 20% ownership stake for the country in the IPC along with an Iraqi position on its executive board. The Iraqi quest for a new oil policy that might strike ―a blow at the legacy of British imperial control‖ (Tripp 2002, p. 167), along with the IPC‘s wish to avoid setting precedents, drew northern Iraqi oil into a ―long-simmering compensation dispute‖ (Stork 1975, online). Company geologists believed that 1.2bn tons of oil remained from 1.5bn tons when production began (Plans for Development of Iraq Oil, 1958), but twelve years of stagnation would ensue.



Law 80 entitled the IPC to continue operating existing fields in northern Iraq while 99.5% of the company‘s concession – virtually the entire country – would pass to the newly created Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), leaving the IPC with roughly 740 sq km of Iraqi land over proven reserves, 478.75 sq km of which fell inside Kirkuk district (The Iraqi Government‘s Action against the IPC, 1962). ―In fact,‖ wrote one British official, ―the law seems to have drawn as tight a cordon as possible round the company‘s existing wells‖ (ibid). Iraq extracted most of its income from IPC operations, but IPC operations were Britain‘s main commercial interest in Iraq (Iraq Government and Iraq Petroleum, 1963). Company and British government officials discussed arbitration under IPC Convention 40, which, in cases of ―dispute or disagreement‖, called for each party to nominate a negotiator before together they chose an arbitrator. IPC lawyers also worried about an Iraqi ―Rose Mary Action‖ like Iran‘s post-nationalisation bid to market Iranian oil despite the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company‘s assertions of theft (Joint Opinion, 1962). In 1967, Iraq passed Law 99, assigning INOC exclusive rights to develop new Iraqi oil resources outside IPC territory. Throughout the 1960s, while Britain and Iraq argued about the legal future of Iraqi oil, the country produced only 165.3m barrels per year compared to 600.5m, 323.3m and 374.4m million in Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the former two of which possess similar total reserves (Stork, ibid). Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds began a short period of relative peace and autonomy in 1970. But in 1973, Iraq succeeded in gaining recognition for Law 80 and learned to use oil as a weapon against foreign and domestic threats. It did so after suggesting three options to the IPC in negotiations over Law 80: relinquish excess production, idle capacity, or Kirkuk. Baghdad took £144m in back royalties and fixed company assets including a terminal in Lebanon in exchange for 15mt of oil worth roughly $300m at 1973 prices. The IPC relinquished the moribund Mosul Petroleum Company, retained an interest in the Basra



Petroleum Company to be phased out by 1982, and ―jubilant Iraqis took to the streets‖ (Martin 1973).

Ethnic cleansing is a modern term for an ancient practice (Lawrence 2008, p.105). By 1978, more than one thousand Kurdish villages had been razed. The Iraqi government famously divided Kirkuk Province in half, leaving Tamin (Nationalization) Province around Kirkuk city north of the newly created Saluhuddin Province, and paid Shia Arab southerners the equivalent of $30,000 to relocate under Baghdad‘s Central Housing Plan for Kirkuk, while Kurds faced a choice either to ―correct‖ their ethnicity or move north. The 2003 invasion brought new relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan region while Kurdish refugee camps grew up around Kirkuk, their inhabitants the product of 1000 Kurdish expulsions per month on average (Romano 2007, p. 267) since the United Nations inadvertently created a de facto Kurdish state in 1991. But Kurdish political ambitions also helped create the situation. After all, refugees belong to the ―cultural tool kit‖ that insurgents use to ―frame‖ their story for themselves and the world (Romano 2006, pp. 99-170), and like Kurdistan propaganda maps, ―their potential for realization is unknown‖ (O‘Shea 2004, p. 180).

Another Kind of Uprising, Kurdistan 2003 In 2003, while Mishan al-Jabouri may or may not have been declaring himself mayor of Mosul (Matthews, ibid), a PUK peshmerga commander named Mam Rostam Hamid led a run on the neighbourhood of his youth, Shorja in Kirkuk, before accompanying party notables such as future President Jalal Talabani to the provincial governorate as Iraqi forces surrendered or disappeared (Mam Rostam 2007). The Kurdistan region occupied 10% of the Iraqi landmass



before the American invasion (see Figure 3). Kurdish forces control another 7% today. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) considers much of this land ―disputed.‖ (see Figure 4).

Figure 3: Green lines and red lines (washingtonpost.com 2008).

Figure 4: The Kurdistan Region and disputed territories (International Crisis Group 2008, p. 34).



Resource nationalism became an inter-regional affair when Iraqi oil landed back on the table in 2003. The Kurdish fight to preserve existing autonomy and reverse the former regime‘s expulsion program has gone hand in hand with efforts to make that autonomy economically viable. In 2004, Kurds presented a special ―Kurdistan Chapter‖ to Iraqi Parliament for inclusion in the Iraqi Constitution that would entitle the KRG to produce and manage new hydrocarbon resources in territory it controlled on March 19, 2003 (Special Provisions for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, quoted in Galbraith, ibid, pp. 239-243). Also in 2004, the KRG began signing memorandums of understanding and production-sharing agreements with foreign firms, and passed a largely well-regarded hydrocarbons law in August 2007. By November 2007, it had signed agreements with some 15 junior and mid-sized energy firms, which Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani declared ―null and void‖, warning that foreign energy investors who deal with Erbil would land on a blacklist in Baghdad while Iraq works out a federal oil law to clarify the legal regime between capital and regions. As of 2008, the Kurdistan region was producing 10,000bpd at a Norwegian-operated field near Dohuk (International Crisis Group (ICG) 2008, p.15). But the region has no legal export routes. Possible routes through Turkey are contested by Turkish nationalists who remember Mosul Vilayet, fear Kurdish independence and refuse to do business with the KRG unless it is tied to the state by federal hydrocarbons legislation (ICG 2008, p.15). Export routes for KRG oil through Iraq are complicated by the fraying Shia-Kurdish tactical alliance. As Liam Anderson has observed, ―Economies that are heavily dependent on oil revenues invariably concentrate power in the hands of the level of government that controls natural resources, which is usually the federal government‖ (Anderson 2007, p.236). Under articles 108 and 109, the Iraqi Constitution proposes an ―old oil, new oil‖ compromise in line with the KRG‘s vision, in which the federal government distributes revenue from existing fields



such as Kirkuk. Meanwhile, Kurdish officials believe their region will produce 1m bpd by 2013. Thus, an impasse. ―It is in no one‘s interest to land-lock a million barrels of oil a day,‖ one energy analyst told the International Crisis Group (ICG 2008, p.25). Nevertheless, the KRG hydrocarbons law could provoke tension throughout the country as federal legislation languishes. A former senior oil executive told the ICG: ―The KRG draft petroleum law is tantamount to a sovereign act... that could encourage fast, unplanned, uncontrolled devolution... inducing similar provincial moves among the ―haves‖, opening the way to border disputes with the ―have-nots‖ (ICG 2008, p. 25).

Informally, the KRG has launched such a dispute, claiming that the Kirkuk structure sits partly under Erbil Province in indisputably Kurdish territory. It is however unclear how Iraqi Kurds might assume a larger role in the production of Kirkuk oil, or how that might free them from the state. Kurdish officials remind critics that, unlike KRG oil, the Iraqi government would distribute revenue from Kirkuk oil, not the KRG (Galbraith 2007, p.203). Resentment grows among the Kurdish population that its leaders have failed to deliver the capital, so named in Article 5 of the Kurdistan Constitution of 1992 (ibid, p. 183). In 2005, all 3000 members of an Iraqi patrol force at the 845 sq km Kirkuk field were Kurds, while only 160 Kurds ranked among its 10,000 workers and most were hired before the invasion (Viviano 2006).

As expected American troop withdrawals put pressure on Baghdad to exercise a monopoly on force, the struggle for northern Iraq evolves into an ―Iraqi game‖. After confronting Sadrist militias in Basra in mid-2008, Iraqi forces launched Operation Omens of Prosperity in Diyala Province, ostensibly to rid the area of Al-Qaeda fighters but certainly also to reassert the power



of the Iraqi state after five years of foreign occupation and civil war. In doing so Iraq evicted peshmerga from Jalalwa, an Arab majority town in the disputed, strategic district of Khanaqin, which possesses the second largest oil reserves in the north after Kirkuk, and receives $15m annually from the KRG. The scene was repeated over the month of August 2008 in Qarat Tabba while American forces negotiated a compromise which saw some peshmerga – ―regional guardians‖ under Iraqi law – rebranded as Iraqi army. Baghdad has since dispatched non-Kurdish oil protection forces to Kirkuk.

The struggle for northern Iraq is about what sort of country Iraq is to become. In recent years, Kurdish leaders have encouraged their returnees and refugees to pursue legal remedies for resettlement in Kirkuk and other disputed areas, perhaps recognising that cultivating regional ―Kurdistani‖ (Stansfield and Ahmadzadeh 2007, pp. 123-149) tolerance and cooperation with Turkmen and Arabs in disputed territories is a smarter territorial acquisition strategy than muscular irredentism based on Kurdish ethno-nationalism. But only 10% of all Kirkuk resettlement cases have been resolved, and while Article 140 outlines clear steps for the resolution of Kirkuk‘s status, federal law currently outlines no mechanism to assign sections of provinces to regions. Neither is it entirely clear which territories are actually disputed. The constitutional arrangements that might help an Iraqi state cohere despite its deep divisions have run afoul of that state‘s realities and the appeal of the status quo. ―The reality in Kirkuk today is fear of the future,‖ writes an Iraqi journalist in the city (New York Times 2009).

One school of thought holds that Iraq was doomed from the start. In the first decades of the 20th century, Britain won the territory and found the oil. The IPC and the Iraqi government, the



former to protect an investment against local agitators citing broad geopolitical concerns, the latter because the British mandate had made the Sunni minority supreme, upset the old ethnosectarian ecology of northern Iraq. Later, Baghdad denied the IPC its territory and took the oil. The current fight for oil and soil in northern Iraq is partly the product of Baathist plans to redraw provincial boundaries and expel Kurds, some of whom settled in Kirkuk to work for the IPC. Nationalisation, perceived as a victory over colonialism, helped Baghdad beat the Kurdish Revolt. But in the early 21st century, PUK notable Barham Salih could name Iraqi Kurdistan‘s demands: ―Kirkuk, democracy, federalism and secularism‖ (Hashim, p. 221). Salih would later go on to explain:
Historical reality shows that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. It is a city inhabited by the Kurds, but also by Turkmen, Assyrians, and Arabs. When I say that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan, I do not wish to imply that it is purely Kurd, because over the course of history, it has been peopled by many different ethnicities. We would like to transform Kirkuk into a model of coexistence and tolerance which would be followed in the rest of Iraq (Hashim, p. 221-222).

Salih ignores the possibility that Iraq will continue to shape Kirkuk instead. In this ―shatter zone‖ of rival empires, religions, nationalisms, ethno-sectarian groups and commercial interests, a new ―conflict arises out of the incendiary intersection of oil, soil and facts on the ground‖ (ICG, p. 23). As Stansfield writes, ―These problems between Kurds and non-Kurds in the north of Iraq are already serious and will probably get much worse before they get better‖ (Stansfield 2008, p. 263).



Appendix A

Figure 2: Kirkuk in 1919 (WO 302/553).




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Worth, R.F. and James Glanz (2006) Oil Graft Fuels the Insurgency, Iraq and U.S. Say. The New York Times, [internet] 5 February 2006. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/05/international/middleeast/05corrupt.html


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