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Kurds and Crude
Baghdad Fumes as Kurds Ship Oil

Map by Lindsey Burrows

A few weeks ago, Iraqi Kurdistan began piping oil north to the border with Turkey, connecting Iraqi oil fields with Turkey’s fairly extensive pipeline network for the first time. Irbil, seat of the region’s semi-autonomous government, was pleased, as was Ankara, as both stand to benefit from the new connection. The event was billed as merely a test flow to determine the condition of the pipeline, but it didn’t go over well in Baghdad, where officials are worried that the region’s oil exports to Turkey will make it more economically and politically independent from the central Iraqi government. Irbil has done little to quell those fears, announcing that it will sell its first blocks of oil through its own regional oil marketing association, rather than the Iraqi state equivalent.

As the WSJ reports, Baghdad is very concerned by the way events are unfolding:

Iraq’s oil ministry responded with “deep regret” and bewilderment, saying Friday that Kurdistan’s plans are a “flagrant violation of the provisions of the Iraqi constitution.”

The ministry also criticized Turkey’s government for allowing Kurdish oil to pass through the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline without Baghdad’s consent. […]

Turkey has repeatedly stressed that it won’t participate in a transaction that undermines Iraq’s constitution and the country’s unity, a key concern for the U.S.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters in Ankara on Jan. 2 that Turkey would wait for Baghdad’s approval before Kurdistan can sell its oil to international markets. The oil passing through the pipeline is currently stored in the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey hasn’t changed its stance, any oil the Kurds are sending to Ceyhan via the existing pipeline is being stored and there haven’t been any shipments to international markets yet. Neither Kurds nor Turks are currently at a definitive moment when we would say: ‘Baghdad is opposed to this, but let’s go ahead and do it,’ ” said a Turkish official, who declined to be identified because the person wasn’t authorized to comment publicly on the matter.

Turkish leaders appear to be saying the right soothing things, but in reality this looks more and more like a game of chicken. With a weakened Baghdad struggling to regain control over Fallujah and Ramadi, the Kurds are keen on pressing their advantage. If the Shiite government in Baghdad manages to convince Sunni tribal leaders to expel al-Qaeda from the besieged towns, Iraq as a unified state has a future. If not, look for the Kurds to press their advantage even further in the coming weeks and months.

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  • rheddles

    One of the few international issues of the last 40 years about which Joe Biden was not wrong.

  • PKCasimir

    There are many of us who remember Henry Kissinger’s betrayal of the Kurds while implementing his amoral policy of appeasement of the Shah of Iran. We will never know just how many Kurds were slaughtered because of Henry Kissinger who has never been really held to account for the Kurdish blood on his hands.

  • TommyTwo

    The State Department is undoubtedly concerned about this provocative development.

    “Baghdad Fumes as Kurds Ship Oil”

    A little too ironic a headline, don’t you think?

    [No, the preceding sentence was not in any way meant to complain about the headline or urge greater discretion in the future.]

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    If the Kurds ever get the funding, as this oil would give them, they will carve a nation out Kurdish populated areas of not only Iraq, but Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Many military analysts equate the Kurds with the Gurkha, for the quality of the combat soldiers their cultures produce.

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