Turkey played down the Iraq incident, because...

Turkey played down the Iraq incident, because...

“Turkey ignored some aspects of the Iraq incident because we want to keep our relations with Iraq going,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said during a coffee break at the Caspian Forum meetings by the Bosphorus.

The incident is his trip to Arbil, where the headquarters of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq is, which was interrupted on Dec. 4 when Baghdad warned Ankara that he was not permitted to conduct the flight. So the minsterial plane had to land in Kayseri, Yıldız’s hometown, so he could not attend an oil and gas conference there supported by energy giants like Exxon, Chevron, Total, Gazprom and assisted by the new Ankara-based company Genel Energy, which boasts ex-BP head Tony Hayward as its CEO.

“Turkey doesn’t note the difference of whether it’s the north or south of Iraq; we see the country as one,” Yıldız said. “But I am traveling to Venezuela 8,000 kilometers away for Turkey’s energy interests. How can I remain indifferent to important developments taking place 200 kilometers from our borders? There are investments in the KRG region from 19 countries of the world, Turkey cannot be an exemption.”

There are estimates that there are 45 billion barrels and 3.5 trillion cubic meters of gas waiting to be unearthed in the region – “the last untapped resources on Earth,” according to Hayward.

Ankara believes that a way is going to be found to mend ties between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki. Actually, the fact that al-Maliki has invited Turkish main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to Baghdad is seen as a move to get on the nerves of Erdoğan but also to show that the move is not against Turkey but is only designed to force a settlement.

Does Baghdad want to block the oil and gas of the Kurdish region from reaching world markets following the northern path via Turkey and try to divert it to the southern part via Basra? The Turkish minister doesn’t think so. “Iraq Oil Minister Abdul Karim Luabi told me during a meeting in St. Petersburg on June 21 that increased oil and gas production makes further use of Basra terminals impossible, thus they want to build a third Iraq-Turkey pipeline. We have agreed in principle for a 1,200 km Basra-Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline in principle. So I believe we will leave this problem behind and move on to realize our joint interests.”

Even if everything goes as desired and Baghdad and Arbil reach an agreement over the sharing of oil and gas revenues, there is still a problem regarding the extraction and flow of oil from the KRG via Turkey; that is the presence of the military headquarters in the same region of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been carrying out an armed campaign against Turkey claiming more than 40,000 lives over the last three decades.

“It is a problem, but it will get solved if we’re able to develop political and economic ties,” the energy minister says with an “I can’t tell you all I know about it” smile on his face. “Though I know it is not so easy.”