In the latest news discussing the ongoing Iraqi conflict between the incompetent forces of Nouri al-Maliki, the Islamic State, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and so many other factions, one thing that has not been discussed is the importance of oil in the conflict.
If the Islamic State is to approach anything nearing an actual state, it is going to need oil to fund its grand ambitions. Obviously massive sanctions are in place to try to prevent ISIS from selling their oil, but recent reports indicate that ISIS in fact is making up to $1 million per day on the sale of black market oil and could make up to around $3 million assuming further campaigns against Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad are successful. The fact that ISIS has been able to sell their oil, while the Kurds are currently stuck in legal disputes with Baghdad and the United States over their right to sell oil, has meant that ISIS can buy heavy weapons and munitions which has enabled it to drive back the Kurdish forces in recent days. This is particularly concerning given that the Kurds appear to be one of the few native groups who possess the actual capabilities to stand up to ISIS.
This is just the latest turn of events in a conflict which possesses serious geopolitical ramifications for not just the Middle East, but for the world. The United States is stuck between wanting to help the Kurds and the fact that if America just abandons Maliki, it will concern other allies across the world who might view us as a fair-weather ally. Can the Islamic State buy time and power to become independent of the Sunni tribal leaders who form a pillar of their support and who have openly talked of turning on ISIS once Maliki is gone? Can Maliki continue to stretch the bounds of what it means to be an incompetent leader? What are the serious implications if ISIS emerges completely triumphant? These are at minimum interesting storylines which have real importance.
So why the heck does the media and the global population care so much not about this, but the recent Gaza conflict?
Once upon a time, people used to think that if a permanent peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians could be brokered, it would be an important step for more stable relations in the Middle East. But it is clear that in today’s Middle East, that is absolutely not the case. Will Iran cease their nuclear program if a peace deal was created tomorrow? Will ISIS stop their rampage? Will Egypt manage to stabilize itself? Will the Syrian Civil War end? The answer is apparent: absolutely not. Peace between the Israel and the Palestinians is a nice thing, but its value over the long-term picture today is greatly overstated.
So, since peace between the Israelis and Palestinians solves nothing over the long term, what makes this conflict so important compared to everywhere else? What makes people have such violent opinions about this conflict? Is it the lives that have been lost in the fighting? Given that the casualties of the latest Gaza conflict are miniscule compared to the fighting everywhere else in the Middle East, no. Is it the atrocities which may or may not have been committed by either Hamas or Israel? Once again, it pales compared to some of the things ISIS or the Syrian jihadists or Bashar Al-Assad have done. Does it have significant long-term ramifications? As discussed above, no.
Columnists and media figures have shed gallons of ink writing about the Israeli conflict. But at this point, I think it is clear that the war and its reporting is self-sustaining: we cover the Israeli fighting just because we cover every silly thing that happens in their region, its global strategic importance be damned.