Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region has begun direct oil and gas trade with neighboring Turkey in a move which could prompt objection from the central government in Baghdad.
The development came amid rising tensions between Kurdish officials and the central government in Baghdad over oil and gas exports as Baghdad calls the trade illegal and wants it to stop.
Turkey, however, encourages the transactions, which began nearly two months ago.
On July 15, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that Ankara must stop the “unauthorized export of oil” from the Kurdistan region “through its land.”
Kurdistan has also tested Baghdad's resolve for months by signing deals with foreign oil majors, such as Exxon and Chevron. However, Baghdad government rejects the contracts as illegal and part of a Kurdish push for more autonomy.
Baghdad has repeatedly said that all oil contracts in the country, including in the Kurdish region, must go through the central government.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Lawrence Davidson, professor, West Chester University, to further discuss the issue. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.
First of all, how do you assess the deal between the autonomous Kurdistan region and Turkey? Why is it bypassing the Baghdad government, and why is its first independent deal coming with Turkey?
It’s an effort on the part of the Kurds to establish a precedent. Their ultimate aim is not autonomy but independence. In order to achieve that, it’s going to have to establish full control over its own economy, viable military and that sort of thing.
This beginning exchange or barter with the Turks is essentially a precedent setting move in the direction of ultimate independence. That’s why Baghdad doesn’t like it.
I think they’re doing it with the Turks because the Turks are willing to do it with them. The Turks probably are looking to increase some sort of leverage or credibility with the Turkish autonomous region in order to better work with them, perhaps to cut all supplies with the PKK or something like that.
Make no mistake of it; this is a move towards setting precedence for independence.
Professor Davidson, it’s not just Ankara that’s striking a deal with the regional government in Kurdistan. I believe also Chevron is jumping on the bandwagon to strike a deal with the Kurdish regional government. How do you think the central government in Iraq will react to all this? Also, what will be the outcome?
If Baghdad could stop it they would. But in order to stop it, essentially what they would have to do is to have the capacity to suppress the Kurdish move towards independence. The Kurds already have a pretty strong local army.
Baghdad has its own internal problems outside the Kurdish region. As long as there is this incipient civil war going on between Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad, you don’t have a really united kind of government in the country, in Baghdad itself.
There are all kinds of political factionalism. Then, that creates the space by which the Kurds can move, manipulate and gain more and more autonomy.
If it comes to a point where the people in Baghdad can put it together and end the civil war and organize a really unified government, then I suspect the Kurds are going to be in trouble because Baghdad will try to stop them.