By Ruth Lux, Managing Director of political risk consultancy Strategic Analysis.
The security situation in Iraq has significantly declined over the last week. Mosul and Tikrit fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an al-Qaeda off-shoot, and Tal Afar, in the Nineveh province, was seized on Monday.
Additionally, Baquba, only 37 miles from Baghdad, was briefly over-run by the militants. ISIS have engaged the Iraqi army in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces and reportedly now control up to 75% of the Baiji oil refinery, the largest in Iraq. This oil refinery is 210 km north of Baghdad and should the militants follow-through on their threat to cut off domestic oil supplies, an already fragile domestic situation will be exacerbated.
The Kurds have benefitted from this security vacuum and the Iraqi army’s inability to secure the country. They have moved their peshmerga forces into areas claimed to historically be part of Iraqi Kurdistan and are unlikely to withdraw. The presence of the peshmerga is undoubtedly securing oil-rich Kirkuk and the Mosul dam, which provides Baghdad with its water supply, however, some critics identify this move as opportunistic.
The deteriorating security environment in Iraq has also bolstered the Kurdish region’s position with regards to its’ revenue-sharing agreement with Baghdad. The Kurdish region has been eager to identify export routes for its crude oil and on 5th June Turkey and Kurdistan signed a 50 year oil export deal. With Baghdad facing more pressing security concerns, the Kurdish region is unlikely to face the usual backlash entailed in acting without the authorisation of the federal government.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has actively sought export routes for its crude oil and its latest oil export deal with Turkey meets this objective. Kurdistan has proven oil reserves of 45 billion barrels, with production capacity quickly rising and expected to reach 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2015, compared to the current level of 400,000 bpd.