KRG Oil Pipeline Would Test Turkish Policy on Iraq and Syria

Article Summary
A report in The Economist suggests the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq wants to build an oil pipeline to Turkey without the permission of or coordination with the central government in Baghdad. Sami Kohen examines the potential fallout on Turkish policy toward Iraq and Syria.

In its latest issue, The Economist reported that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq has proposed to Ankara to build a pipeline connection. According to the report, the KRG administration has staked ownership of rich oil resources in the region and — with the contribution of foreign oil giants — has increased its oil production to 200,000 exportable barrels a day.

Now Kurdish leaders want to build a pipeline that will belong only to them, and that will remain outside the control of the Baghdad government. If this pipeline is connected to Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan will be opening up to external markets and, according to the Kurdish minister for natural resources Ashti Hawrami, will soon be able to export one million barrels of oil a day.

The Economist says some Turkish officials — enticed by economic gains — look favorably to the project. But it seems difficult for Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan to take a step in this direction, despite his not-so-friendly attitude towards the administration in Baghdad.

Regardless of whether or not such a project will be feasible, it is now on the agenda and has attracted much attention.

Last week, in a conference in Istanbul, a variety of energy projects were discussed. In a meeting organized by the Turkish Policy Quarterly journal under the title “The New Energy Game in Turkey and the Region,” the focus was on the South Stream and Trans-Anatolian [TANAP] pipelines. We were told that the Nabucco project remained on paper.

One of the speakers was former United States diplomat and energy expert Matthew Bryza. In his wide-ranging presentation he spoke of the rich energy resources in Northern Iraq and said that oil reserves in this region are estimated at 45 billion barrels.

When talking about the effects of energy needs on foreign policy, Bryza stressed that Turkey’s 180-degree change in its attitude towards Barzani was basically guided by this reality. That is why it is likely that more progress can be expected in energy cooperation between Turkey and Northern Iraq.

No doubt, all of this depends on developments in the region. What will be the future of Iraq? Will it be able to preserve its territorial integrity as a federation attached to a strong central government or will the Kurdish region secede and become independent?

Same question can also be asked regarding the future of Syria. Will the Kurds in Northern Syria be encouraged by the situation in Northern Iraq and opt for secession? Prime Minister Erdogan recently told journalists that Turkey will never allow such a move.

In recent years we have observed mind-boggling political bargaining over energy projects. This is truly an ongoing game whose results are not predictable.

Found in: kurds, kurdistan, krg

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