U.S. Retirees Making Iraq Safe For Big Oil

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AP A view of Kirkuk in 2007.

What do you do for an encore after a distinguished career in the U.S. military or diplomatic corps? For some, the answer lies in cashing in on the oil boom in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Reese Erlich, for GlobalPost, reports that some top figures from the Bush-era wars in Iraq have returned to the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. They're leveraging their old networks in the service of some of the 50 or so foreign oil companies that are hustling to claim a stake in the region's vast oil and natural gas reserves.

Big names now in the oil biz include retired Marine Corps Commander General James L. Jones, now on the board of directors of Chevron and head of the U.S.-Kurdistan Business Council. Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad is an advisor to a Norwegian oil company. Retired Col. Harry Schute Jr. is a security consultant to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

According to GlobalPost, the American expats are strong advocates of an independent and pro-American Kurdish state that would be friendly to American oil investment. Not surprisingly, they also support increased U.S. military intervention in the region.

The potential rewards are enormous, but so are the risks. The main oil pipeline in Kirkuk was sabotaged by Islamic terrorists in March, and has not operated since. In any case, the Kurds have controlled Kirkuk only since June, and Iraq disputes the region's claim to it.

Moreover, the region is exploiting its own oil reserves in direct defiance of the central government of Iraq, which wants its share of the riches. Just this week, the Iraqi government refiled a complaint to a U .S. court seeking the seizure of a cargo of Kurdish oil that is now off the coast of Texas.

Kurdish independence fighters supported the U.S. mission to oust former dictator Saddam Hussain, and provided assistance to the U.S. up to and including the mission that led to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

The Kurdish region seeks independence from Iraq, or greater autonomy within its borders, a goal it has pursued since the 1920s. Its political situation is complicated by the fact that the Kurdish people dominate a wider region that crosses borders into modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey as well Iraq.

If you're a military veteran, you have assets to leverage in the jobs market, too, even if you never made it to general.
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