Turkey driven by 'greed' in Kurdish oil row: Iraqi deputy PM
BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
In this May 31, 2009 file photo, employees work at the Tawke oil field in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. AP PhotoTurkey has been “driven by greed” in an escalating row over oil pumped from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region and shipped overseas, Baghdad’s top energy official has said, after northern Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani reportedly threatened to consider self-rule.
The remarks by Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister responsible for energy affairs, represent a significant ratcheting up of rhetoric after Baghdad took legal action against Ankara in a widening dispute over Iraq’s prized natural resources.
The shipping of oil extracted from the three-province Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) last month has chilled ties both between Baghdad and Ankara, and between the central government and Kurdish authorities in Arbil.
“We believe Turkey has been driven by greed to try to lay [its] hands on cheap Iraqi oil,” al-Shahristani, a former oil minister, said in an interview.
“They have facilitated this smuggling, and obviously this has undermined the relationship” between the two countries.
Speaking from his office in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, he said, “We had reached a fairly good level of cooperation before Turkey’s greed has taken over and allowed itself to help in smuggling Iraqi crude.”
Al-Shahristani’s remarks came a day after the release of a statement on the KRG’s website that quoted Barzani as saying the energy-rich northern region might resort to a referendum to decide its fate.
Barzani said his people “cannot wait another 10 years for their legitimate and constitutional demands to be addressed” following his official visit to Rome between May 28 and 30, according to the statement.
The administration “will ask [the people of the northern region] through a referendum to decide on their future relationship with Baghdad” if their demands are not addressed, Barzani said.
The dispute between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities centers on interpretations of Iraq’s Constitution, with both sides insisting they are behaving legally.
The central government insists it has the sole right to export Iraqi crude, and also says contracts between Kurdish authorities and foreign energy firms without its expressed consent are illegal, statements Arbil rejects.
But the row took on a new dimension when Turkey announced last month that oil pumped from Kurdistan had been shipped to international markets, escalating a long-simmering row between Iraq and both Ankara and Arbil.
Iraq responded by filing the arbitration request, asking the ICC to order Turkey and its state-owned pipeline company to “cease all unauthorized transport, storage and loading of crude oil,” and added it was seeking financial damages of more than $250 million.
“Turkish action has been extremely harmful to Iraq,” al-Shahristani said. “It has undermined the economy, it has deprived the Iraqi people of revenues. This is a hostile action that no other neighbor has taken against Iraq. I call on the Turkish government to reconsider that position because of its potential damage to our bilateral relationship.”