HASAN KANBOLAT

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HASAN KANBOLAT
May 21, 2012, Monday

Growing importance of energy between Ankara and Arbil

After President Massoud Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq Nechirvan Barzani came to Turkey for a visit, as well. The relations between Ankara and Iraqi Kurds found their way into the spotlight due to the visit of Nechirvan Barzani to Ankara, who considers establishing good relations with Turkey an important principle.

The fact that the mentioned visit occurred in a period in which, especially in recent months, the tension has been gradually increasing between Ankara and Bagdad as well as Arbil and Bagdad was remarkable. For a long time Nechirvan Barzani was expected to make this visit. But, due to the fact that cabinet formation process was delayed in the Kurdistan Regional Government and that the date of the visit was postponed a couple of times by Turkey because of domestic issues, it is a total coincidence that this visit took place in a period in which more problems emerged between Ankara, Arbil and Bagdad. Just like Dr. Serhat Erkmen from the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) has stated, the seventh cabinet of Iraq Kurdistan Regional Government could only be formed after considerable efforts. The sixth cabinet that was formed as a requirement of the strategic agreement between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the aftermath of regional parliamentary elections held on July 25, 2009 was ended as another requirement of this agreement. A part of the agreement stipulates that the parties involved should alternately take over the prime ministry for a period of two years in the regional parliament, which is elected every four years.

Even though the agreement wasn’t carried for the fifth cabinet formed in 2005 in parliament, the seventh cabinet was formed a short while after the sixth cabinet completed its two-year term following pressure from the KDP that beat the PUK in elections in local and country-wide elections in both 2009 and also 2010. Although within the strategic contract there was an agreement about changing the cabinet when it fulfilled the two-year term, the PUK didn’t want to hand over the power to the KDP. But, the KDP insisted that the prime ministry be assigned to it. In the new cabinet, some key ministers that were in charge in previous cabinets have remained in the same positions. Among these ministers is Minister for Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami who works in the region’s oil market.

Ankara, despite fluctuating relations with Bagdad, has stuck to its principle of maintaining good neighborly relations. Moreover, Ankara, in line with its fight against terror, wants the existence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq to come to an end. It keeps improving bilateral economic relations with Iraqi Kurds. It expands the basis for political cooperation. These policies are what Ankara has already been working towards persistently for years. What makes Nerchivan Barzani’s visit crucial is the issue of energy. In this regard, the issues of oil and natural gas were also discussed with Nerchivan Barzani. The majority of oil and natural gas in the region is being extracted by Turkish firms. It is requested that the regional government gives the support required for signing bigger agreements with Turkish firms. Additionally, Turkey is making an effort to meet the need for electrical energy, which is a serious problem for the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government. Four Turkish construction firms are working on energy transfer lines extending from Turkey to North Iraq. In the aftermath of Nerchivan Barzani’s visit to Ankara, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız attended the 1st International Energy Arena organized by the Strategic Technical Economic Researches Center (STEAM) held on May 20 in Arbil. The theme of the meeting referred to the scope of the convergence between Ankara and Arbil; “From Arbil to the World: Energy and the Kurdistan Region’s Road to Development.” In other words, it is proposed that oil and natural gas extracted from Iraq be transferred to world markets via Turkey.

Accordingly, in the abovementioned meeting Yıldız said, “Turkey should also be considered as the regional Kurdish government’s gateway to the West.” Additionally, Yıldız also stated that the practice of buying crude oil from Iraq and selling oil products in turn, which was suspended, will be re-launched and that oil will first be transported by tanker. “Between 2003 and 2007 a supply chain was drafted with Iraq about providing oil products. However, we will re-launch the practice of buying crude oil and selling oil products that was suspended for several reasons in 2007. Iraq made a demand about this issue. We listened to this demand and decided to re-launch. … This trade will initially start with oil tankers,” said Yıldız. Similarly Nerchivan Barzani also stated that energy will be the first issue for coordination and collaboration. Energy has clearly come to the fore between Ankara and Arbil.