Iraqi Kurdistan Oil a Slippery Issue

By Ali Mamouri for Al Monitor. Any views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Iran and Turkey are trying to extend their economic influence over Iraqi Kurdistan oil, even as controversy flares over surreptitious deals between Kurdistan and Turkey.

Iraqi Kurdistan has been shipping oil to Turkey without Baghdad's knowledge, resulting in Iraq violating an OPEC agreement, according to accusations leveled Jan. 3 by Iraq's prime minister. Also, Iraq recently confirmed that a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) minister had offered to sell oil fields to Turkey for $5 billion, again without consulting Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh plans to visit Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaibi next week to discuss cooperative projects related to oil and gas. Chief among these is the establishment of an oil pipeline from the province of Sulaimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan to Iranian territory.

Such a project would almost completely end the oil export monopoly of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is led by KRG President Massoud Barzani. The oil is now carried through Turkey, which has close strategic relations with Barzani's party.

Nazim Dabbagh, Iraqi Kurdistan's representative in Tehran, told Rudaw media network that Zanganeh's visit to Iraq "comes within the framework of Iran's attempts to link the oil of Kirkuk, the Kurdistan Region and all of Iraq to Iran, in order [for it] to be exported through Iranian territory.”

Iraqi Kurdistan's oil is one of the main topics of contention between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad on one hand, and among Kurdish political parties on the other. Critics say Barzani's KDP, which controls the KRG, based in Erbil, is using money from oil and gas toward achieving its separatist goal. Some other parties oppose separatism, fearing the KDP will control Kurdish wealth and, consequently, monopolize power in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurdish differences, most notably over the oil export issue, have raised the idea of dividing the Kurdistan Region and declaring another Kurdish province that would include Sulaimaniyah, Halabja, Kirkuk and Khanaqin, which would limit Barzani’s authority to a small province with no effect. The idea was proposed by Kirkuk Gov. Najmaldin Karim, who is a leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) political movement in Iraq.

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