Euro­pean tour amidst first oil ex­ports high­light grow­ing recog­ni­tion and sup­port of Kur­dis­tan

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

Al­most as soon as the Kurds an­nounced their first di­rect ex­port of oil via Cey­han in Turkey, Kur­dis­tan Pres­i­dent Mas­saud Barzani em­barked on a tour of Europe start­ing in France be­fore a visit to Rome, where talks were hosted be­tween Pope Fran­cis and Ital­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Fed­er­ica Mogherini, with the Kur­dis­tan flag in full view.

Last week Kur­dis­tan Prime Min­is­ter Nechir­van Barzani led a sim­i­lar del­e­ga­tion on an of­fi­cial visit to the UK.

The in­ter­est and sta­tus of Kur­dis­tan is grow­ing and more EU part­ners clearly sup­port the Kur­dish po­si­tion in Iraq but ul­ti­mately in its nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion to­wards for­mal state­hood.

The first Kur­dish crude was not pur­chased on the black mar­ket by some rogue state. It was pur- chased by Ger­many and Italy. It is no co­in­ci­dence that oil ma­jors from across Europe and the US par­tic­i­pate ac­tively in Kur­dis­tan. Kur­dis­tan would not em­bark on a bold move to ex­port oil if it didn’t have prior sup­port from Euro­pean pow­ers.

Kur­dis­tan’s decades of at­tach­ment to Iraq was not through a mar­riage of choice but a forced pair­ing based on out­dates im­pe­rial in­ter­ests.

Most Euro­pean pow­ers re­alise that the Western lean­ing and sec­u­lar Kurds, who open doors of eco­nomic and strate­gic in­ter­est, can­not be con­tained in an ar­ti­fi­cial state with lit­tle ide­o­log­i­cal or eth­nic sim­i­lar­ity with the rest of Iraq. Iron­i­cally, it is Wash­ing­ton that re­mains fix­ated with the prin­ci­ple of Iraqi ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, even af­ter their fail­ure to bridge the Iraqi ethno-sec­tar­ian di­vide. The idea of a united and har­mo­nious Iraq shar­ing power in a demo­cratic and equal man­ner catches the imag­i­na­tion, but it is sim­ply not go­ing to hap­pen. Some an­a­lysts com­ment as though the first di­rect ex­port of Kur­dish crude was the rea­son for wors­en­ing of Kur­dis­tan re­la­tions with Bagh­dad or in­deed Turkey’s grow­ing di­vide with Iraq. Turk­ish ties with Bagh­dad have de­te­ri­o­rated over a num­ber of years with strong rhetoric ex­changed be­tween both sides on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions.

The poor state of re­la­tions be­tween Er­bil and Bagh­dad is a tale of over 10 years of foot drag­ging over pre­vi­ous prom­ises and lack of im­ple­men­ta­tion of con­sti­tu­tional ar- ticles. For ex­am­ple, a hy­dro­car­bon law, first drafted in 2007, is still gath­er­ing dust on the Iraqi po­lit­i­cal shelf.

Years of dis­putes over oil ex­ports, months of stalled ne­go­ti­a­tions and failed budget pay­ments, not to men­tion dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries and many other con­sti­tu­tional is­sues, paint a much big­ger story.

The de­ci­sion to ex­port oil by the Kurds was the straw that broke the camel’s back but it was a long time com­ing.

Con­trol of oil and other key dis­puted is­sues be­tween Er­bil and Bagh­dad be­came a game of bluff. Bagh­dad wanted to im­pose its in­flu­ence and con­trol over all cor­ners of Iraq whereas the Kurds in­sisted on au­ton­omy and their con­sti­tu­tional rights.

Kur­dish oil ex­ports may not solve all of Kur­dish budget is­sues. Of course, it takes more than one ship­ment and more than one pipe­line to build a suc­cess­ful oil in­dus­try. But it served as a strong mes­sage that the Kurds would match threats with ac­tion if backed into a cor­ner.

Fur­ther­more, grow­ing Turk­ish ties with Kur­dis­tan is not merely un­der­pinned on eco­nomic and en­ergy grounds. Some ques­tion why Ankara would alien­ate Bagh­dad fur­ther to side with the Kurds. These view­points over­look the big­ger pic­ture.

Ankara’s ties with Bagh­dad have been weak over the past sev­eral years es­pe­cially as Ma­liki con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate power, sec­tar­i­an­ism in­creased and Bagh­dad grew closer to Tehran. On the other hand, the Mid­dle East­ern so­cio-po­lit­i­cal land­scape is rapidly chang­ing and Kurds have as­sumed a piv­otal role.

Ankara is keen to re­solve its own Kur­dish dilemma and at the same time looks anx­iously to­wards a Syria has bro­ken into mini states. Sec­tar­ian is taken foot in the Mid­dle East and the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion is a vi­tal buf­fer and ally of Turkey in chang­ing times.

In spite of le­gal ac­tion from Bagh­dad and ob­jec­tions from the U.S., Turkey con­firmed that it would con­tinue to ex­port Kur­dish oil. Kur­dis­tan Prime Min­is­ter Nechir­van Barzani, in a de­fi­ant speech to par­lia­ment, ex­pressed open­ness to di­a­logue but vowed to “...never give up con­trol of our own oil”.

“We are open to di­a­logue, but if Bagh­dad chooses to close all the doors we will cer­tainly not be stand­ing there do­ing noth­ing,” the prime min­is­ter warned.

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