“This is war,” say Kurds in oil fight with Bagh­dad

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE -

Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki's dis­pute with Iraq's Kurds over its in­de­pen­dent oil ex­ports has es­ca­lated with the cen­tral govern­ment block­ing Kur­dis­tan's share of the state budget and ban­ning two air­lines from op­er­at­ing be­tween Europe and Kur­dis­tan.

Prime Min­is­ter Nouri alMa­liki's dis­pute with Iraq's Kurds over its in­de­pen­dent oil ex­ports has es­ca­lated with the cen­tral govern­ment block­ing Kur­dis­tan's share of the state budget and ban­ning two air­lines from op­er­at­ing be­tween Europe and Kur­dis­tan.

Kur­dis­tan's pres­i­dent, Mas­soud Barzani, warned Ma­liki that his ac­tions are "a dec­la­ra­tion of war against the people of Kur­dis­tan."

The sim­mer­ing feud be­tween the au­to­crat­i­cally in­clined Ma­liki and the in­de­pen­dence-minded Kurds seems set to es­ca­late sharply.

But Ma­liki is fac­ing a po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive par­lia­men­tary elec­tion on April 30, the first since U.S. mil­i­tary forces with­drew in De­cem­ber 2011. Ma­liki hopes the elec­tion will bring him a third term as pre­mier.

Ma­liki is also bat­tling a widen­ing in­sur­gency by the mi­nor­ity Sun­nis that many in Bagh­dad fear will even­tu­ally spread to Iraq's all-im­por­tant oil in­dus­try, which is largely in the Shi­ite-con­trolled south.

Some po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts see the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity of a com­pro­mise in the com­ing weeks. Ma­liki may well make some con­ces­sions to the Kur­dish Re­gional Govern­ment on the oil is­sue in re­turn for Kur­dish sup­port at the polls, on which he de­pended in pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

"I ex­pect that some time aaround the elec­tion, ei­ther just be­fore or just af­ter, Bagh­dad will grudg­ingly agree to al­low the KRG to man­age its own oil ex­ports, with some sort of rev­enue­shar­ing ar­range­ment," Richard Mal­li­son, a geopo­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and Iraq specialist with En­ergy As­pects of Lon­don, told The Na­tional, a daily pub­lished in the United Arab Emi­rates.

Ma­liki's Shi­ite-dom­i­nated par­lia­men­tary bloc failed to se­cure a ma­jor­ity in the 2010 elec­tion for the 325seat Par­lia­ment and it was only an even­tual al­liance with the Kurds that put his State of Law coali­tion back in power.

Af­ter the U.S. with­drawal, Ma­liki ac­cel­er­ated the process of amass­ing power in his own hands--the army and se­cu­rity ser­vices, the supreme court, the trea­sury, cen­tral bank and state me­dia.

By the spring of 2012, the Kur­dish par­ties and the al­lies of Shi­ite cleric Mo­q­tada al-Sadr, scion of an il­lus­tri­ous fam­ily and Ma­liki's main ri­val, at­tempted a par­lia­men­tary vote of no con­fi­dence in the Iraqi pre­mier.

"The ef­fort nar­rowly failed due to stren­u­ous Ira­nian lob­by­ing on Ma­liki's be­half, but it be­came clear that he would face a ma­jor chal­lenge in se­cur­ing a third term in 2014," Iraq specialist Michael Knights of the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy told the BBC.

"Ma­liki is per­haps unique in be­ing able to boast the U.S. and Iran as his clos­est back­ers. Both have stepped into Iraq's po­lit­i­cal melee to save him from re­moval on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions since 2006" when he was first elected.

All this makes the swelling con­fronta­tion be­tween Ma­liki's regime and the KRG, which if not yet in­de­pen­dent some­times acts like it is, into a po­lit­i­cal time bomb.

And lurk­ing be­hind the con­fronta­tion is the con­cern that if the KRG be­comes eco­nom­i­cally self-suf­fi­cient be­cause of the es­ti­mated 45 bil­lion bar­rels of oil it says it sits on, can Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence be far be­hind?

The Kurds' move in Jan­uary to start pump­ing their oil di­rectly to north­ern neighbor Turkey via a Turk­ish-built pipe­line to the ex­port ter­mi­nal at Cey­han on the Mediter­ranean coast, in open de­fi­ance of Bagh­dad, el­e­vated the dis­pute to a po- ten­tially dan­ger­ous level.

Ma­liki, who in­sists the Kur­dish move is il­le­gal and un­con­sti­tu­tional, can­not be seen to let the Kurds get away with such uni­lat­eral ac­tions.

Right now, the Kurds are pump­ing a mod­est 200,000 bpd to Turkey. By the end of the year, they hope to dou­ble that, push­ing it up to 2 mil­lion in the next few years and by­pass­ing Iraq's state ex­port­ing net­work.

The Kurds say they are will­ing to give Bagh­dad the greater share of this rev­enue, but Ma­liki's govern­ment wants con­trol.

Now Ma­liki has re­tal­i­ated by block­ing Er­bil's share of the Iraqi state budget. Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion, Kur­dis­tan is en­ti­tled to 17 % of the Iraqi budget, which is used to pay govern­ment salaries and the like. But the Kurds claim Bagh­dad has rarely ever pro­vided more than 10 %.

Kur­dish Prime Min­is­ter Nechir­van Barzani, the KRG pres­i­dent's nephew, says he's will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate ev­ery­thing--ex­cept the budget cut.

Ma­liki's ban this week on two air­lines, Ger­mani and Hor­muz--Bagh­dad has con­trol of all Iraqi air space--is seen as an­other means of pres­sur­ing the Kurds.

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