Oil smugglers can count on corruption in Iraq

More than a year after Mosul was liberated from the Islamic State, oil smuggling continues in the area.

al-monitor An oil refinery at Qayarah, Iraq, April 10, 2017. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images.

Feb 8, 2019

Accusations are flying about oil smuggling in Iraq's Ninevah province, and many accusers say government officials, armed factions and other powerful parties are involved.

Representatives of the province, including parliament member Ahmed al-Jubouri, have said recently that oil is being smuggled from the Ninevah wells. That news coincided with Osama al-Nujaifi, head of the Iraqi Decision Coalition, telling the media Feb. 1, “Security forces sent out military vehicles to halt the smuggling operations, but armed parties controlling the wells stood in the way.”

Jubouri said in a Jan. 26 statement that the Islamic State (IS), which controlled Mosul from mid-2014 until mid-2017, used to smuggle oil from more than 72 oil fields in Qayyarah in south Mosul, but now "armed groups continue smuggling an average of 100 tankers of crude oil per day.”

He told Al-Monitor by phone that there are smuggling operations, but refused to go into detail or name the parties he suspects. He added, “Parliament tasked me with presiding over the fact-checking committee regarding smuggling operations in Mosul. Parliament ordered committee members to suspend media statements until the report is drafted.”

On Jan. 20, parliament member Ghaleb Mohammad told parliament, the Cabinet and intelligence officials that he has “visual proof exposing the oil smuggling operations to Turkey through a secondary pipeline connected to the main one.”

The allegations from Jubouri and Mohammad made it seem strange when Mohammad Ibrahim, head of the Ninevah Provincial Council's Security Committee, issued a statement Feb. 2 saying oil field supervisors tell investigators there are no smuggling operations in the area.

Victory Alliance party member Ali al-Suneid isn't surprised that some parties deny there is smuggling. He told Al-Monitor, “The most dangerous problem facing attempts to halt the smuggling operations is that the armed groups and political parties implicated deny these accusations.” He accused “political blocs, families and armed groups affiliated with powerful parties of stealing oil.”

He added, "Powerful armed groups in oil regions are stronger than the power of the law, and they smuggle oil to Turkey and Iran through various outlets, mainly the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and using tankers or pipelines" after changing the pipelines' course.

A key source in the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The exchange of accusations ... in oil smuggling operations dates back to the political conflict between Ninevah Gov. Nofal al-Akoub and parliamentarians of the province, in their battle for influence in Sunni areas.”

The smuggling of Iraqi oil didn't begin overnight. It's been going in southern and northern Iraq since the United States invaded the country in 2003.

Hakim al-Zamili, a former head of parliament's Security and Defense Committee and a leader in the Sadrist movement, told Al-Monitor, “There is a form of systematic smuggling of oil and its derivatives among Iraqi provinces and outside the country. Some political parties are covering up the operations because they are benefiting. Besides, security authorities guarding the oil areas are implicated in the smuggling.”

Zamili added, “Smuggling is taking place in oil regions in Basra and Amarah in the south, and in the north in Qayara in [Ninevah] and Alas in Salahuddin.”

His statements align with Ninevah parliament member Hassan al-Alou’s Facebook posts Jan. 25 that “70 to 100 oil tankers are stolen daily from Qayara fields in Mosul [Ninevah province] and smuggled to neighboring countries, with the knowledge of the security and administrative forces.” He added, “The administrative forces support smugglers by securing the smuggling route ... with governmental vehicles to facilitate smugglers' passage."

The state-owned North Oil Co. published a report Feb. 2 in which it denied oil is being smuggled from Ninevah fields and said all the fields and stations are managed by the company, as per administrative and technical criteria.

Oil Ministry spokesman Assem al-Jihad suggested that Al-Monitor contact the Energy Police Directorate, "which has the information and power to talk about the topic,” seeming to indicate that the Oil Ministry didn't want to discuss the matter.

The Facebook page of the directorate documents the almost daily smuggling operations of oil and its derivatives.

Oday Awad, a member of parliament's Oil and Power Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The parliament failed recently in forming investigative committees to expose the oil smuggling operations, due to pressure from political parties in the south and north.”

Suneid said the solution is to “form independent and professional committees whose members aren't affiliated with any party or political bloc, to expose those implicated.”

Iraqi legal expert Tarek Harb, a former judge, told Al-Monitor, “Those people [found guilty of smuggling] should be sentenced to jail for life or execution because the law considers oil smuggling a terrorist crime, not just theft.”

Finally, it seems any step in the war on smuggling mafias won’t be successful as long as “the authority is weak and the parties and influential figures play a role in these operations,” Harb said.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Iraq

Iraqi prime minister is first among Arab leaders to receive call from US president
Ali Mamouri | | Feb 24, 2021
Iraq's 'Falcon Cell' leader removed amid accusations of suspicious links
Shelly Kittleson | Intelligence and espionage | Feb 23, 2021
Militia attacks on US forces in Erbil challenges Iraqi government
Hassan Ali Ahmed | Kurds | Feb 16, 2021
Iraq finally makes arrests over killing of anti-government protestors
Hassan Ali Ahmed | Armed Militias and Extremist Groups | Feb 15, 2021