Today’s edition of the Wall St. Journal quotes a senior State Department official as saying that the oil exploration agreement between Hunt Oil Co. and the Kurdish government “had taken the U.S. government by surprise”. That statement sounds somewhat disingenuous since the ongoing discussions between Hunt Oil executives and the Kurdish regional government were well known to U.S. officials in Iraq. Perhaps, the State Department statement yesterday was designed to mollify national government officials in Iraq who are angry over the recently announced energy deal between Hunt Oil and the Kurdish regional government. The Journal quotes the Iraqi oil minister, Hussein al-Sharistani, as saying that the deal “was illegal”.
Hunt Oil spokeswoman and former Bush Ambassador to the OECD Jeanne Johnson Phillips claims in the same Journal article that Hunt Oil “didn’t participate in any discussion with the U.S. government” before inking the deal with the Kurds. That statement is surprising given Ray Hunt’s close ties to President Bush and his membership on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
It seems unlikely that Ray Hunt would have proceeded ahead on the energy agreement with the Kurds without giving the President a heads-up and getting tacit approval from the White House for this oil exploration project in Kurdish territory.
The bigger story about this energy deal is that it indicates a possible shift in U.S. policy in Iraq towards the partitioning of Iraq into three separate regions. The Kurds would control the North, the Sunnis the central region, and the Shiites the South. That this is the direction of the Bush Administration may be heading is suggested today in an opinion column by David Brooks in the New York Times entitled “The Road to Partition”. Unfortunately, the Brooks column is available only to Times subscribers.
Ray Hunt is not the only Dallasite seeking to enter into energy agreements with the Kurds. As noted by the Dallas Morning News this morning, H. Ross Perot, Jr. also is engaged in negotiations with the Kurds on major energy deals in northern Iraq.