This year’s unprecedented attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan have adversely affected the autonomous region’s energy and tourism sectors.
On July 20, Iraqi tourists gathering in Zakho’s resort town of Parakh in the Iraqi Kurdish province of Duhok suddenly came under heavy artillery fire. The devastating bombardment killed nine tourists, including a one-year-old girl, injured 33 and outraged Iraqi Arabs and Kurds.
While Turkish airstrikes and bombings have killed and maimed civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan in the past, this particular attack was unprecedented due to its target and the number of civilians killed in a single incident. Turkey denied any responsibility. However, the nature of the artillery shells fired and the location of the attack make its denial at least highly doubtful.
Iraqi Kurdistan has suffered many setbacks such as the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) which kick-started its tourism sector. Resorts like Parakh offer Iraqis a respite from the unbearable summer heat, chronic power outages and harsh, debilitating dust storms. These resorts have also created jobs for local Kurds and a source of income for the autonomous region other than oil exports, which fits neatly into the incumbent Kurdish government’s goal of diversifying the economy.
Duhok has ambitious plans to expand the number of its resorts and tourist attractions. Since the beginning of this year alone, at least 20 new tourist attractions have been built in the province to accommodate a growing number of tourists from neighboring Turkey.
However, the Parakh massacre dealt a serious blow to the autonomous region’s tourism sector. Tourism from Iraq fell by a whopping 90 percent in Duhok and 70 percent in Zakho. (By contrast, tourism in Duhok increased by 77 percent in June 2021 compared to the previous month.) An estimated 300 people who worked in Zakho’s tourist spots have lost their jobs. If there is no significant recovery in the upcoming spring and summer season, it could spell a major setback for the sector when it looked like it could recover quickly and even expand post-Covid.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s critical energy sector has also come under unprecedented attacks this year, which could have serious economic consequences for the future of the autonomous region and its people.
On March 13, the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil was subjected to an unprecedented missile attack. Ballistic missiles hit the home of Baz Karim Barzanji, a businessman working on developing a gas export pipeline.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran (IRGC) readily claimed responsibility for the attack, making unsubstantiated claims that they had attacked an Israeli base. In reality, Iran attacked Erbil, and in particular the Barzanji residence, to demonstrate its vehement opposition to Iraqi Kurdistan’s plan to supply Turkey and Europe with natural gas. Barzanji’s KAR group worked to develop a pipeline for this purpose. Iran opposed the project as it did not want competition from Iraqi Kurdistan and showed its willingness to resort to brute force to get its way.
The move also came after Iraqi Kurdistan’s leading party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), formed a tripartite political coalition led by populist Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr, who won the most seats in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October 2021, sought to form an Iraqi government with a bare parliamentary majority without the Iran-backed political factions organized under the umbrella of the coordination framework.
In response, the Coordination Framework staged a “judicial coup,” using the country’s Supreme Court (FSC) to prevent Sadr from forming his majority government by changing the requirements for selecting Iraq’s president and forming a new government changed and Kurdistan’s oil sector ruled against Iraq. As Iraq analyst Michael Knights put it, by taking this action, the Framework “did not hesitate to risk taking half a million barrels of oil off the world market and sending five million Kurdistan residents through its courtroom (alongside missile and missile launchers) into an economic crisis to bring down drones) attacks on oil sales in Kurdistan.”
US contractors working on an expansion project at the Khor Mor gas field in Iraqi Kurdistan aimed at doubling production have left following repeated rocket attacks no doubt perpetrated by Iran-backed militias. KAR Group’s pipeline was to deliver gas from Khor Mor to Duhok near the Turkish border. As with the March 13 attack on Erbil, these repeated rocket attacks are clearly aimed at preventing this and preventing Iraqi Kurdistan from developing independently and benefiting from its natural resources.
These flagrant attacks threaten the security of Iraqi Kurdistan, a relatively stable enclave in a notoriously volatile part of the world.
While rocket attacks terrorize foreign contractors from the region, the FSC ruling has also forced oil services companies Baker Hughes, Haliburton and Schlumberger to pledge not to seek new tenders in Iraqi Kurdistan. In late August, Baghdad threatened legal action against buyers of Iraqi Kurdish crude, meaning other companies may soon be forced to follow suit.
An exclusive Reuters report revealed that oil production in Iraqi Kurdistan “could almost halve by 2027 in the absence of new exploration or major investment in the sector.” That would prove disastrous for the autonomous region and its populace (more of whom may seek to illegally immigrate to Europe if economic conditions deteriorate as a direct result), as they still spend up to 85 percent of their budget dependent on oil exports. The region had hoped that increased gas production could allow it to weather the ill effects of a drop in oil sales, but that too is being jeopardized by these constant missile attacks.
These flagrant attacks threaten the security of Iraqi Kurdistan, a relatively stable enclave in a notoriously volatile part of the world. They could have profoundly negative long-term effects across the region if they continue.