The ironic Amer­ica-turk­ish twist on Kur­dis­tan

The Kurdish Globe - - EDITORIAL -

The Mid­dle East can be an ironic stage. Only a few years ago, the US ad­min­is­tra­tion, deep in its Iraqi quag­mire, was re­as­sur­ing the Turks about the unity of Iraq and press­ing an anx­ious Ankara to­wards di­plo­macy over po­ten­tial con­flict with Kur­dis­tan.

Fast for­ward to 2013, and it is the Amer­i­cans who are wor­ried that in­creas­ingly close al­liances be­tween Ankara and Er­bil is fu­elling the dis­in­te­gra­tion of Iraq. Amer­i­can views are mir­rored by Bagh­dad who ac­cuses Turkey of di­vid­ing Iraq.

There is no doubt that ties be­tween Turkey and the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion are miles apart from that of 2008 when Turkey in­vaded, harsh rhetoric was the norm and even recog­ni­tion of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Government (KRG) was a bit­ter pill to swal­low.

But in the fast chang­ing so­cio-po­lit­i­cal whirl­wind of the new Mid­dle East, 5 years is an aw­fully long time. Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds have be­come nat­u­ral al­lies and have much to gain po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally, in par­tic­u­lar from Kur­dis­tan’s im­mense en­ergy po­ten­tial.

And it is th­ese en­ergy ties that con­tinue to un­der­pin and con­sol­i­date strong re­la­tions be­tween both gov­ern­ments that are the source of dis­com­fort for Bagh­dad and Washington.

Bagh­dad’s all too fre­quent cries and threats against KRG en­ergy deals with for­eign firms is hardly a new phe­nom­e­non nor has it de­terred the Kurds or oil ma­jors who have started to stream in. The un­der­lin­ing ques­tion is what are the Kurds do­ing il­le­gally? Are they break­ing laws or is Bagh­dad’s only gripe Kur­dis­tan’s grow­ing strate­gic clout and eco­nomic promi­nence?

In a fur­ther twist of irony, while Washington has tried to slow down Kur­dis­tan’s grow­ing in­de­pen­dence and close ties with Ankara, US oil ma­jors Chevron and ExxonMo­bil have signed key agree­ments with the KRG. This is in ad­di­tion to To­tal and Gazprom who have joined the ranks.

If it was so il­le­gal to deal with Kur­dis­tan and such deals were “un­con­sti­tu­tional”, why would oil ma­jors flock to do busi­ness?

There is grow­ing talk of a “se­cret” frame­work agree­ment signed be­tween Turkey and the KRG around the trans­porta­tion and mar­ket­ing of oil and gas from Kur­dis­tan di­rectly to Turkey.

Kur­dish plans to build an in­de­pen­dent pipe­line to Turk­ish ports are hardly a se­cret or a new ini­tia­tive. Broad plans in­clud­ing oil pipe-lines were an­nounced pub­licly last year at the in­ter­na­tional en­ergy con­fer­ence hosted in Er­bil.

It goes with­out say­ing the po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance of a na­tional hy­dro-car­bon law for Iraq, but 6 years since the last draft was side­lined, ef­forts to rec­on­cile dif­fer­ences have been lack­ing and Nouri al-Ma­liki’s government has done lit­tle to bridge ma­jor dis­putes with Kur­dis­tan, and not only in the en­ergy sec­tor.

The Kurds are faced with a predica­ment to ei­ther wait in­def­i­nitely on Bagh­dad and be at their mercy on oil ex­ports or drive their own des­tiny with the le­gal ba­sis to do so.

The stop start na­ture of oil ex­ports via Kur­dis­tan and the bit­ter dis­putes over pay­ments to for­eign com­pa­nies is syn­ony­mous with many other dis­putes be­tween Er­bil and Bagh­dad.

The con­trol of oil ex­ports is one re­main­ing noose that Bagh­dad has around Kur­dis­tan and this is also ma­nip­u­lated in other po­lit­i­cal strug­gles against the Kurds.

Re­cently, KRG has started to ex­port in­de­pen­dently via trucks to meet domestic de­mand much to the fury of Bagh­dad. But it ap­pears that with Turk­ish sup­port and grow­ing con­fi­dence, the Kur­dish pa­tience with the Bagh­dad wait­ing game is run­ning thin.

Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, in a ma­jor boost to Kur­dish ties, de­fended Turk­ish en­ergy co­op­er­a­tion with Kur­dis­tan. Er­do­gan deemed such ties as le­gal and in line with Iraq’s con­sti­tu­tion and stated they were merely help­ing their neigh­bour meet their needs. Po­lit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions There is no doubt that Turk­ish ties with Amer­ica has rapidly cooled, es­pe­cially as Turkey has looked in­creas­ingly east. Turkey is at­tempt­ing to adapt to a new Mid­dle East, seeks a proac­tive role in cur­rent con­flicts, par­tic­u­larly in Syria, while it per­ceives the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as in­creas­ingly dis­tant, slow and in­de­ci­sive.

Washington is par­tic­u­larly un­easy about de­te­ri­o­rat­ing Turk­ish ties with Is­rael and cau­tioned Turkey on re­cent “in­flam­ma­tory” state­ments.

Turkey has also re­alised ne­ces­sity of peace at home at a time of Mid­dle East­ern sand­storms with a new rea­chout to the PKK and its own Kurds. It deems new strate­gic re­la­tions with the Iraqi Kurds as a bridge with its own Kur­dish com­mu­nity.

Closer co­op­er­a­tion with Iraqi Kurds comes at a time when Turkey is in­creas­ingly wary of Ma­liki and his Ira­nian in­flu­ence.

U.S. Am­bas­sador to Turkey, Fran­cis J. Ric­cia­r­done, warned that "If Turkey and Iraq fail to op­ti­mize their eco­nomic re­la­tions... There could be more vi­o­lent con­flict in Iraq and the forces of dis­in­te­gra­tion within Iraq could be em­bold­ened."

This fol­lows pre­vi­ous warn­ings by Ric­cia­r­done and other se­nior US diplo­mats.

With Ma­liki at the helm and with a con­tin­u­ous pol­icy of lip-ser­vice to im­ple­men­ta­tion of key con­sti­tu­tional ar­ti­cles, di­vi­sion and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of Iraq is in­ten­si­fy­ing. There is no fear of some­thing break­ing when it is al­ready broke.

With a frag­ile government, mo­nop­o­li­sa­tion of power un­der Ma­liki, re­newed sec­tar­i­an­ism, a lack of se­cu­rity and deep dis­trust and dis­cord through­out Iraqi cir­cles, is it really the Kurds who are the source of the Iraqi di­vide?

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama shakes hands with Turkey's Prime Min­is­ter Tayyip Er­do­gan af­ter a bi­lat­eral meet­ing in Seoul March 25, 2012.

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