In Iraq, the re­venge of the Kurds

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - Alain Fra­chon

Er­bil, Kur­dis­tan Re­gion, Iraq - (le­ - This town breathes con­fi­dence in the fu­ture. The 4X4s ap­pear big­ger than any­where else. The con­struc­tion sites om­nipresent, a dec­la­ra­tion of op­ti­mism. Shop­ping malls, the in­evitable sym­bol of bur­geon­ing wealth, are threat­en­ing the lo­cal bazar. The uni­ver­si­ties have glass fronts, ho­tel pa­tios made out of mar­ble. The low sky, grey weather, rain and mud from non-ex­is­tent pave­ments have no in­flu­ence: Er­bil, the cap­i­tal of the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion in Iraq is at the top of its game.

Iraqi Kur­dis­tan will be ex­port­ing its oil di­rectly to Turkey by Christ­mas. And that is without ask­ing for help from the fed­eral govern­ment in Bag­dad, which is com­plain­ing but can­not do any­thing about it. For some time a big chain of Turk­ish trucks have been trans­port­ing Kur­dish oil into Turkey. But this time, the Re­gional Govern­ment of Kur­dis­tan (KRG) has its very own pipe­line from the oil fields south of Er­bil to the bor­der town of Habur. Ankara and Er­bil are proud to have signed a long-term sup­ply agree­ment. Bag­dad is winc­ing. Could Kur­dish en­ergy in­de­pen­dence be the pre­cur­sor of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence?

Nechir­van Barzani is way too smart to open him­self to that ques­tion. The 48 year old Prime Min­is­ter of the KRG is a man, him­self part of the “Kur­dish mir­a­cle”. He re­ceives guests in a quasi-palace, a lo­cal Tri­anon, on the edge of town. Dark cos­tume, tall, charm­ing and per­fect English, he states, “In the early 2000’s, we had no idea what was un­der our feet. No­body would take a bet on us. Only small oil com­pa­nies would take the risk to come to the au­ton­o­mous re­gion.”

Oth­ers were wait­ing for the Fed­eral Par­lia­ment in Bag­dad to pass a law out­lin­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of oil in­come be­tween Iraqi re­gions. A con­se­quence of the fall of the Sad­dam Hus­sein regime in 2003, the 2005 Con­sti­tu­tion cre­ates a fed­eral State. The Kur­dish re­gion, the north-east, un­der the Amer­i­can air pro­tec­tion since 2001, was al­ready de facto au­ton­o­mous. How­ever, eight years on, the ma­jor­ity power in Bag­dad, con­trolled by the Shia Arabs, has not been able to pass a law defin­ing the dis­tribut­ing of oil in­come. Snubbed “We could not wait any longer. In Au­gust 2007 the KRG passed its own law on oil re­source ex­ploita­tion”, ex­plained the Prime Min­is­ter. “First drillings were con­clu­sive. Today all the big names in the sec­tor are here: Exxon, Mo­bil, To­tal, Chevron, Gazprom”. The Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion is sit­ting on a pretty gold mine. That is, “about 45 bil­lion of bar­rels and 3000 to 6000 bil­lion m3 of gas“.

These num­bers rep­re­sent much more. This is a story of re­venge, a snub­bing of Bag­dad, and repa­ra­tion for 6 mil­lion Iraqi Kurds. This land was seen as the poor­est in the coun­try. It has ex­pe­ri­enced a quar­ter of a cen­tury of war, mas­sacre, tor­tures, and an Arab power un­will­ing to give any­thing away to the Kurds. In the late 1990’s it went through a frat­ri­ci­dal war be­tween the two par­ties which dom­i­nate the po­lit­i­cal lo­cal life, the Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party (KDP) and the Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan (PUK).

The Kurds have learnt from his­tory. The whole re­gion has bet­ted on their in­abil­ity to have gov­ern them­selves—that is those his­tor­i­cally op­posed to them—Bag­dad, Tehran, Ankara. A mas­sive mis­take. Over the past twelve years (helped by the hy­dro­car­bon), the Iraqi Kurds have built their own au­ton­omy. They have their own army, their own po­lice force, their own se­cret ser­vice, their own in­ter­na­tional air­ports, their own di­plo­macy. In a tor­mented Mid­dle East, in an Iraq buried in an end­less re­li­gious war, Kurds sup­ply a rare com­mod­ity: se­cu­rity. This at­tracts an in­creas­ing num­ber of for­eign com­pa­nies.

This Kur­dish awak­en­ing would not have been pos­si­ble without the rather un­ex­pected com­plic­ity of the re­gional su­per­power, Turkey. For a long time it has been op­posed the KRG, fear­ing a con­ta­gious effect on its own Kurds (pop­u­la­tion of 15-20 mil­lion). Part of the Turk­ish army is based p, the bor­der with Iraqi Kur­dis­tan.

It needed the meet­ing of two po­lit­i­cal minds, those of Nechir­van Barzani and the Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, to emerge from an im­passe. Recog­nis­ing that he can­not erad­i­cate the KRG, Er­do­gan has cho­sen to em­brace it. Turkey needs the oil. “It is the first coun­try to have showed in­ter­est in our re­sources”, says Nechir­van Barzani, who has de­vel­oped a very per­sonal re­la­tion­ship of trust with Er­do­gan. Turkey has be­come the first eco­nomic part­ner of the au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Barzani has also formed “a very good re­la­tion­ship with Tehran”. Iran ap­pre­ci­ates that Er­bil main­tains a rel­a­tively neu­tral po­si­tion in re­la­tion to the Syr­ian tragedy. The KRG con­sid­ers its main en­emy today as Sunni ex­trem­ism. Barzani suc­cess­fully man­ages the diplo­matic strategy en­sur­ing zero con­flict with its neigh­bours, each of which have a large Kur­dish mi­nor­ity and have their own rea­sons to be sus­pi­cious of a suc­cess­ful in­de­pen­dent model.

Lastly Bag­dad, which de­nies the right of the KRG to di­rectly ex­port "iraqi" oil. Protests to Er­bil are for­mal, where they con­sider that the cen­tral govern­ment will even­tu­ally ac­cept the new re­al­ity. “I am con­fi­dent. We are ready to ne­go­ti­ate a resti­tu­tion per­cent­age rate with the cen­tral govern­ment if it would only agree to stop con­trol­ling ev­ery­thing. This could be a win-win sit­u­a­tion”, says the Prime Min­is­ter. This is said with ev­i­dence, thought­fully, with no sign of ar­ro­gance. War­riors in the past the Kurds are now en­joy­ing their ini­ti­a­tion into pol­i­tics.

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