June 26, 2009

Natural Security in the News: Spotlight Iraq and Afghanistan

This week’s news roundup takes us to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the government is beginning to be forced to deal with issues related to its natural resources as it prepares to exert full control over the country. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s ravaged land is the subject of several positive developments. 

In Iraq, Water Resources Minister Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed warned that his country faces a potential “agricultural disaster” over the summer due to water shortages. Iraq is in the midst of a drought, and has been for some time now. The other factor in Iraq’s water woes is their upriver neighbor – Turkey – which has numerous dams along the Euphrates River.

While the Turkish government looks at such practices as rather industrious and forward-thinking, Iraq “accuses Turkey of choking the Euphrates” and has been asking Turkey to release more water to flow downstream. Turkey has indicated it will free up more water over the summer, but Iraq claims that Turkey made similar claims earlier in the year and has failed to honor them. There are, however, several factors which further complicate the issue. The first is that this week has seen a considerable upsurge in violence compared to recent months within Iraq, which presents a much more immediate concern for the fragile government as it prepare for the June 30 withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities. Secondly, not only does Turkey control the spigots, but it’s also Iraq’s largest trading partner, and an economic giant within the country.

The good news for Iraq is that while they may not have much water, it does have quite a lot of oil. And, this week saw a big step forward in tapping into those reserves as the Iraqi government intends to open six oil fields and two natural gas deposits for bidding for oil service contracts for the first time in more than 30 years. However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, domestic politics in Iraq surrounding the bidding are complicated and controversial, and threaten to stall or even derail the process. The Iraqi Oil Ministry also decided this week on a bidder for development of the super giant Nassiriya oilfield, which could produce up to 100,000 barrels per day within 18 months.  The Iraqi Cabinet must now approve the contract.

In Afghanistan, land use played a prominent role in events this week. The Missouri National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team has been helping Afghan farmers develop more advanced growing and irrigation techniques to compensate for land all but ruined by decades of war.  The Development Team is also working to develop refrigeration strategies to allow farmers to get their goods to market. Afghanistan also recently opened its first national park at the Band-e-Amir Lakes natural dam, marking the fulfillment of a project first envisioned in the 1970’s.

This week’s issues are both deeply intertwined with and symptomatic of the larger conflicts of which they are a part, and will continue to grow in importance. As the fledging Iraqi government struggles to assert itself, its relations with its neighbors will grow increasingly complex, and the development of its energy reserves will only grow in importance. Likewise, as the Obama administration continues to develop the use of U.S. “soft power,” programs such as the development of national parks and smarter agricultural practices will play an important part in the ongoing U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.