$8 mln: Too little for oil, very precious for Kurds

$8 mln: Too little for oil, very precious for Kurds

When compared to the enormous oil and gas Reich that is Iraq, $8 million is almost nothing, but it has historical meaning for the Kurds in Iraq.

It is the amount of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) share of the $95 million that was sold through Turkey without the consent of the central Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad.

It is actually 17 percent of the total amount, but after subtracting the production costs, transportation costs, Iraqi taxes, Kuwait funding and other cuts, only about $8 million remains for the KRG treasury in Arbil.

The money is kept in Turkey’s government-controlled Halkbank. The bank was involved in the graft probe that started on Dec. 17, 2013 regarding oil-for-gold trade with U.S.-sanctioned Iran, and its former general manager - in whose house some $4.5 million in cash was found stashed away in shoeboxes - had to resign. The Turkish government says the total amount of money sold to customers via Turkey is being kept in Halkbank on the Iraqi government’s behalf, ready to be paid to Baghdad upon request. It is likely that the Kurds will receive only their share, despite the fact that they tend to ask for it all, in order to get even with Baghdad for the shares that they claim not to have received so far.

This was one of the reasons of Masoud Barzani’s visit to Ankara on July 14, where he met with all ranking Turkish officials from President Abdullah Gül, to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.

But if he returns to Arbil with that symbolic amount of great value, it would count as a major victory for him in his rhetoric regarding an independent Kurdish state. The Turkish government is already in trouble with the sectarian and ethnic conflict-hit Iraqi government; al-Maliki has taken Turkey’s pipeline operator BOTAŞ to the court of arbitration in Switzerland over accepting oil from the existing pipeline from the Kirkuk oilfields, at Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, after Kirkuk was no longer under the control of the Baghdad government. Barzani’s KRG forces seized the oil rich city of Kirkuk a month ago in the wake of the capture of another oil rich city, Mosul, by the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as Baghdad's troops in the north of the country became practically non-existent. Kirkuk is historically important for the Turks, as it is an important city for Turkmens.

This is Barzani’s second critical contact with Ankara. The first was in 1992, when Barzani received a Turkish diplomatic passport as a sign that the Turkish state no longer saw him as a terrorist leader, but a political partner. Now he is at the threshold of winning his regional government’s economic independence, thanks to Turkey.

And when it comes to independence, Ankara knows that Barzani is likely to get a loose federation or a confederation within the existing borders of Iraq by raising the stakes as high as independence. One should think that this must be a completely new generation of a “good neighborhood.”