Turkey in the Iraq quagmire

Turkey in the Iraq quagmire

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani furiously said: “The man sitting in Baghdad is trying to put pressure on Kurdistan by cutting the salaries of Kurdish civil servants. We reject this. That era is over. Kurdistan will relinquish no more!”

This happened at the Sulaimani Forum in Sulaimani, northern Iraq, last week. The forum, called “the Middle East’s Davos,” was organized by the American University of Iraq and attended by high level politicians from all around the world. The main concern of all Iraqi and Kurdish politicians who participated was the same: The rift between Baghdad and Arbil.

The struggle is about the distribution of oil revenue. The Iraqi Constitution allocates 17 percent of oil revenues to Kurdistan. Baghdad wants to receive all of the revenues first before giving its 17 percent to the KRG. But the KRG wants its share to be paid first before the rest goes to Baghdad. On top of that, Baghdad finds it illegal that the KRG is signing oil agreements with other countries without its consent. The agreements between the KRG and Ankara have further deepened this crisis.

The marketing of oil is another issue. Baghdad has total control of oil exports via its own company named SOMO (the State Organization of Marketing Oil). Kurds, on the other hand, want a joint command of oil. Thanks God they are on the verge of signing an agreement that calls for a Kurdish representative at SOMO.

It is obvious that Baghdad and Arbil are going to be negotiating oil revenues and marketing soon. But there is one issue that seems unresolvable in the foreseeable future: Kirkuk. Both sides want to control of Kirkuk, which hosts a huge amount of the Iraqi oil. Whether Kirkuk wants to be annexed to Baghdad or Arbil, or to become autonomous, will be determined by a referendum. That’s what the 140th article of the Iraqi Constitution demands. This is why the KRG is carrying out a “Kurdification” of Kirkuk, just as Saddam pursued an “Arabization” policy. As a result of this, the Kurds in Kirkuk are estimated to have reached 70 percent of the whole population.

Baghdad wants to lose neither Kirkuk nor its power. It is therefore trying its utmost so that Iraq doesn’t become federalized, even though its Constitution defines Iraq as a federal state. It has maximized centralization and its pressure on the Kurds. This is why it has not been paying the salaries of Kurdish civil servants for the last two months. Kurds, on the other hand, want federalism and are sure that Kirkuk will vote on their behalf.

Kurds need Baghdad much more than Baghdad needs Kurds. Baghdad has nothing to lose. But Kurds have a lot at stake. And the amount they would lose depends on Baghdad. Moreover, it is almost certain that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will win the elections to be held on April 30. Hence, all Kurdish politicians admit that they have to fix their relations with Baghdad.

Turkey finds itself in the midst of this fight. It has to make sure that it remains impartial. Not just for the sake of oil revenues, but also along sectarian lines so that it isn’t perceived as against the Baghdad government, which is Shia. When Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in Sulaimani that Turkey would try its best to solve the conflict between Baghdad and Arbil, he assured that Ankara was on the right track.