Erbil-Baghdad Tensions High as Maliki Visits Washington

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visits Washington as tensions between his government and the Kurdistan Regional Government increase over disputed oil exports. 

Statements made by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami, noting that the Iraqi Kurdistan Region intends to export oil through Turkey, have reignited the dispute between the Kurds and the Iraqi federal government, which could obstruct the recent rapprochement between Ankara and Baghdad.

On another note, before meeting President Barack Obama, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to dispel the concerns of US Congress and convince it to keep supplying Iraq with advanced weapons.

The Iraqi parties reached an agreement in April regarding oil exportation and the formation of joint committees to follow up on the pending issues, such as Baghdad’s settling its payments to the foreign oil companies operating in the region in return for the region’s resumption of its export activities. Despite this, officials from both sides admitted to the failure of the committees to do their work.

Hawrami addressed the Energy Conference in Istanbul yesterday, Oct. 31, and said, “The region will provide a second exportation pipeline through Turkey in two years, with a capacity of one million barrels per day. We will also evaluate our exports independently from the federal government as soon as the new pipeline, which will be connected to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan line, becomes operational. We lose thousands of barrels a day due to the link with the al-Qiyas station, which is operated by Baghdad. But these days are gone.”

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“If the Baghdad government refuses our rights that are mentioned in the permanent constitution, we will resort to an alternative plan that exports the region’s oil and deducts the dues of companies operating there from our returns,” he added.

He also noted, “We support dealing with Baghdad according to the constitution, and the 2014 general Iraqi budget draft — estimated at $150 billion — dedicated $860 million to settle the mentioned dues.”

These statements irritated Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, Hussein al-Shahristani, who said, “I asked the Iraqi Kurdistan government to link the two pipelines before the pumping station, in order to determine the flow of crude oil. But Baghdad did not receive any reply.”

Shahristani had used the term “smuggling oil to Turkey,” in a reference to the Kurdish plans. During a meeting with the president of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Turkish parliament, Volkan Bozkir, he said, “Both sides have discussed the strengthening of relations between the two countries and the ways to solve problems and pending issues that are related to smuggling oil without the knowledge and approval of the federal government and the Ministry of Oil.”

In April, Shahristani held Turkey accountable for the “smuggling” operations and said, “Allowing the Turkish side to conduct smuggling operations contradicts the Global Transparency Initiative.”

In Washington, Maliki failed to convince the US Congress of a middle ground that guarantees the persistent supply of military aid to Iraq in return for a political plan of openness to Kurds and Sunnis to cater to the demands of American congressmen. Some of the latter confirmed that Maliki did not wash away their concerns.

The Iraqi delegation continued its meetings with US Secretery of Defense Chuck Hagel on the eve of the White House meeting between Obama and Maliki.

On Wednesday and Thursday evening, Maliki met with the congressional Foreign Relations Committee. The convening sides discussed the security and political developments in Baghdad, as well as the military aid, mainly Apache helicopters. Republican Senator Bob Corker told Reuters, “I don't think [Maliki] seemed to internalize the concerns that we have about what's happening there ... and I don't think it was a particularly healthy meeting.”

Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, who met the Iraqi delegation, issued a similar criticism for Maliki. “It almost seems like after all the blood we lost and all the money we spent, that Iran seems to have more influence in Iraq than the United States does,” Engel noted.

He also added that Maliki reiterated during the meeting in the Congress: “Iraqi democracy is not perfect, but it's a democracy.”

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Found in: us congress, oil contracts, nouri al-maliki, kurdistan regional government, democracy, barack obama
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