A Divided Iraq Means Cheap Energy for Turkey

Article Summary
Energy is the number-one factor determining Turkish foreign policy, writes Yavuz Semerci. Turkey’s support for an independent Kurdish province in Iraq is directly linked to its desire for energy stability. While Turkey has no wish to antagonize Iraq, there is little doubt that when pushed, it will side with Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis.

What is Turkey concocting with President Massoud Barzani of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq? What is our policy in Iraq, anyway? Are we for division? Is there any base to the Iraqi government’s accusations against Turkey? What does Russian and Iranian involvement in regional developments mean in economic terms? The list of possible questions are endless. I will explore but one scenario:

In order to understand what Turkey is striving for in the region, some basic parameters must be noted. My theories on why Turkey supports a Kurdish-Sunni front in Iraq is already etched in stone. However, now I will take it a step further and assert that Turkey would actually prefer an independent Kurdish state as its neighbor in northern Iraq.

The crucial issue for Turkey is, of course, energy. The developments in the Middle East can actually be reduced to relations between oil and natural-gas energy producers and consumers. Energy-dependent countries first and foremost seek stability in energy supply and prices. For the US and Europe, energy-price stability is more vital than the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of the region. Human rights struggles are only supported if they can serve a purpose.

As far as I can see, energy is the basic concern deciding Turkish foreign policy. Turkey has finally become aware that the region right next door represents a shining opportunity. All Turkish institutions are now locked onto this target, and our relations with Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran and Russia are determined by this awareness.

Figuratively speaking, the Turkish economy’s soft underbelly is the fact that the deficit won’t go down due to high energy prices. Turkey spends about $50 billion a year on energy inputs. The problem is that Turkey cannot stop growing. If it grows by 4-5% per annum, its yearly energy need will increase by 7-8%. So far, it is not possible for Turkey to substitute with nuclear, wind or thermal power, or depend on its own local coal reserves. Consequently, our dependence on imported natural gas and oil will continue. But as oil prices go up, so do the natural-gas prices linked to them.

I think that Turkey has seen the light at the end of the tunnel that will reduce the bill, and is running toward it.

For Iran and Russia, an independent Kurdish region is a massive threat. Not only would Europe and Turkey reduce their dependence on Iran and Russia, but cheaper natural gas from Kurdish region will also enter the market. This will seriously impact the income of these two countries.

In sum: the Kurdish region has decided to provide for Turkey's ever increasing need for natural gas, and has set a reasonable price. This alone will save Turkey billions of dollars on its energy bill.

For its part, Turkey would like to support its gas and oil-resource rich neighboring province while not antagonizing Iraq, which is a significant destination for Turkish exports. However, when the day comes when Turkey will have to make a choice, it is beyond doubt that Turkey will opt for the Kurds and the Iraqi Sunnis. The opposing side — Iran and Russia — are trying to keep the Kurds out of this game. They will stand with the Iraqi Shiites.

One hard reality is beyond doubt: A divided Iraq means cheaper gas for Turkey.

Found in: turkish foreign policy, turkish economic growth, turkey, security, sectarianism, russia, oil and gas, oil, kurds, kurdistan, krg, iraq, iran, gas, economic, eu, division of iraq, autonomy

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