ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish officials argued on Tuesday that Baghdad and Ankara could not export the crude oil of Kirkuk without first reaching an agreement with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region due to geographical and logistical reasons.
Previous exports of 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from the province of Kirkuk, through the Kurdistan Region, to Turkey were halted after last October’s military attack and takeover by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias of the oil-rich province in the weeks following the Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence.
Since then, Baghdad has attempted to find an alternative route to export Kirkuk’s oil, namely through Iran, but attempts have failed due to periodical attacks by the Islamic State (IS) in the disputed territory, which Iraqi forces have yet been unable to fully secure.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi met with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara to discuss a number of topics, including the resumption of oil exports from Kirkuk.
Both leaders reportedly reached an initial agreement to sell Kirkuk’s oil to international markets via Turkey. The deal would involve a new pipeline, close to the Syrian border, that would traverse a narrow chunk of land which is under the Kurdistan Region’s control.
Turkey also expressed its intention to open a new border crossing with the Iraqi federal government near the Kurdistan Region’s Faysh Khabur border crossing with Syria. That area is also where the proposed oil pipeline is likely to go through, but remains under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) despite the Iraqi forces’ attempt to retake the northern disputed territories last year.
Rebwar Talabani, the head of Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC), argued it is ‘unrealistic’ that Baghdad could export Kirkuk’s oil through the Nineveh province because of security concerns and issues in the area.
“The federal government of Iraq should be grateful that the Kurdistan Region is offering its oil pipeline to resume Kirkuk’s crude oil flow to Turkey,” Talabani told Kurdistan 24 on Tuesday.
“It is in the best interest of Baghdad to resume the export of Kirkuk’s oil through the Kurdistan Region’s pipeline as they would benefit more from the revenue than the KRG.”
Others believe that, regardless of how Baghdad wants to export the province’s oil to Turkey, there should be an agreement with the KRG first.
“Turkey and Iraq cannot take any steps regarding Kirkuk’s oil export without first reaching an agreement with the Kurdistan Region. The oil pipeline is completely under the control and protection of the Kurdistan Region,” Bewar Khinsi, an adviser on natural resources to the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) Chancellor, Masrour Barzani, told Kurdish media on Tuesday.
For Baghdad to export Kirkuk’s oil to Turkey, he affirmed, the central government would first have to express support for the Kurdistan Region, stabilize the situation in Kirkuk, and withdraw Shia militias from the province.
“With the current state of Kirkuk, it is challenging to export the province’s oil,” he asserted.
Khinsi also stated that the resumption of Kirkuk’s oil exports would be in the ‘best interest’ of the KRG and the Iraqi government.
“It would bring more revenue to the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. The country’s economic situation would improve.”
“If the oil fields in Kirkuk are properly managed, they could produce and export up to 500,000 bpd, with the possibility of it eventually increasing to one million bpd,” the Kurdish adviser concluded.
Editing by Nadia Riva