Ashti Hawrami, the natural resources minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said Kurdish oil fields in northern Iraq were estimated to have 100 to 200 trillion cubic feet (tcf), or 3 to 6 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of natural gas. “This is more than adequate for internal use, the domestic supply of Turkey as well as to satisfy the requirements of Nabucco. We are confident, if we can prove the full 200 tcf, we can supply the entire needs of Nabucco,” Hawrami told a small group of journalists on the sidelines of a high-profile international energy forum.
Iraq is one of the key potential suppliers to the Nabucco, which is backed by the US and the European Union as a way of reducing European dependence on Russia for energy, but still has unresolved problems as to guaranteeing sufficient supply.
Russia, whose planned South Stream pipeline competes with Nabucco, and Iran, which is locked in a deep dispute with the West over its nuclear program, are not considered among potential suppliers, while a third option, Turkmenistan, is still undecided whether to contribute to the Nabucco project. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last year that Iraq was ready to contribute 15 billion cubic meters to the project, which is expected to bring about 30 billion cubic meters of gas each year from Azerbaijan and other eastern suppliers when it becomes operational in 2015.
But deep disputes between the Kurdish government and the central government in Baghdad hinder any energy exports from the area administered by the KRG. Hawrami, who attended the Black Sea Energy and Economic Forum organized by the Atlantic Council in İstanbul, said he was optimistic that disputes could be resolved but insisted during an address to the forum that Kurds’ concerns on revenue and power sharing must be addressed.
Iraqi Kurds say the Iraqi constitution provides principles for sharing political power and revenue from energy exports, but complain that these principles are not being implemented. Hawrami complained that some people in Baghdad are still dreaming of concentrating power in one hand -- although there was an agreement among Iraqi groups prior to a US-led war on Iraq that federalism was the best system in the post-Saddam era. And without a working agreement that would sufficiently address the Kurdish demands for a share in power and revenues, energy exports from northern Iraqi fields are hard to initiate.
“Please be mindful of our concerns,” Hawrami told the forum -- which brought together policy makers, investors and experts from the US, Europe, Turkey, the Caspian region and Iraq, -- while urging for steps to be taken that would guarantee that Kurds’ constitutional rights are protected. In the meantime, the Iraqi central government’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, did not take part in the three-day forum in İstanbul, despite his name being listed among the participants by the organizer Atlantic Council.
The Iraqi government and the KRG have for years been unable to resolve their disputes, thus blocking the passage of necessary legislation on hydrocarbon development and revenue sharing. In the absence of relevant laws, the Iraqi government says it will not recognize contracts signed by the KRG for energy exports, effectively keeping northern Iraqi reserves out of the global energy market.
Hawrami said the KRG wanted autonomy on development activities, planning and exporting as long as the revenue went to Baghdad. “We are not after the revenues. Revenue can go to Baghdad to be distributed to all of Iraq,” he said. “But they say ‘give us all the revenue and we promise to share it’.”
Hawrami said he was still optimistic that a solution could be found in a near future because Iraqis are tired of lingering indecision and are looking for new revenues to rebuild the country. But in a sign that Iraq’s internal disputes might be too deep to resolve anytime soon, Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, an expert on Iraq, told the same forum that the Iraqi constitution could not be implemented because it is “not implementable,” given the vague language of the constitution and disagreements among Iraqi groups as to what is meant by sharing power.
Hiltermann said Turkey could play a positive role in helping resolve disagreements within Iraq, while Hawrami praised Turkey as the biggest trade partner of the Kurdish administration. “We are partners in energy and trade. Our relationship with Turkey is fantastic and it continues to expand,” he told reporters. Turkey is a key energy investor in Iraq but it does not export energy from Iraq because of the central government’s refusal to recognize KRG’s energy export contracts. “Turkey does not want to get involved in Iraq’s internal disputes,” Hawrami said.