Iraqi Kurds Out-Lobby Iraqi Arabs In Washington

This week, we learned that the White House knew about last year’s deal between Texas-based Hunt Oil and the Kurdish Regional Government.

Apparently the threat it posed to the fragile negotiations in Baghdad didn’t concern the president as much as he suggested in public.

The Kurds have made a lot of friends in Washington during the past few years — especially among Republicans.

It’s a relationship that’s bolstered by aggressive lobbying by the Kurds. The Kurdish Regional Government has 11 active contracts with U.S. lawyers and lobbyists, according to the State Department’s database maintained under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The Kurds have been shelling out far more money on K Street than any other group or government in Iraq.

A key ally for the Kurds is the firm Barbour Griffith Rogers, the lobbying shop founded by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, formerly head of the Republican National Committee. BGR receives $700,000 a year from the Kurdish Regional Government. Their agreement says the firm will “arrange meetings” with U.S. media and government officials.

The firm has a separate agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party for a $262,500 annual fee, according to the FARA database.

The Kurdish Regional Government also has a deal with the Republican-linked firm Russo, March and Rogers for running a “media campaign” and a “public relations campaign.”

The Washington Post last year also noted the Kurds efforts to reach out to evangelical Christians.

In the past year, the Kurds have spent more than $3 million to retain lobbyists and set up a diplomatic office in Washington. They are cultivating grass-roots advocates among supporters of President Bush’s war policy and evangelicals who believe that many key figures in the Bible lived in Kurdistan. And they are seeking to build an emotional bond with ordinary Americans, like those forged by Israel and Taiwan, by running commercials on national cable news channels to assert that even as Iraq teeters toward a full-blown civil war, one corner of the country, at least, has fulfilled the Bush administration’s ambition of a peaceful, democratic, pro-Western beachhead in the Middle East.

The Kurds are probably watching this year’s campaign very closely.