South Kurdistan: From Oppression to Banana Republic

Kamal Chomani

By Kamal Chomani:

Twitter: @KamalChomani

The recent developments in energy cooperation between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Turkey are seen by many as a route to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Independence, a long-deferred dream of Kurds. However, putting all the eggs into Turkey’s basket ultimately creates KRG Dependence on Turkey or, as many put it, an incipient-colony of Turkey that makes the KRG very vulnerable to any shifts in Turkey’s position towards Kurdistan.

With reserves of about 45 billion barrels of oil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has become a hub for giant oil companies. The KRG’s recent visit to Turkey and Barzani’s meetings with Turkish officials, including with Premier Erdogan, concluded with the revelation of oil pipeline projects worth billions of dollars. Interestingly, one oil pipeline is already almost finished and another is on the way. More interestingly, Turkey hopes that, by gaining access to KRG gas, it can end its current dependence on Russian and Iranian gas. It is believed that Turkey will retain the KRG energy revenues in Turkish banks.

The Turkish Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) dream to be incipient-Ottomans of the region require a more vigorous economy and a secure route to the Gulf. But the KRG can be its subsidiary. Around 1,000 Turkish companies and 30,000 Turkish citizens are working in the Kurdistan Region. The reality is that Turkey does not possess enough gas and oil to meet her requirements. Although Iran and Russia have provided gas to Turkey, the Syrian crisis has caused deterioration in Turkey-Russia and Turkey-Iran relations. But now Turkey seems to have won access to more gas at a much lower cost – from the KRG. As sources have revealed, Turkey can get KRG gas at half the price of gas from Russia and Iran.

If you a pay a visit to Erbil, especially to see the mushrooming hotels and colossal malls, you will realize how Turkish companies and personnel have occupied the Kurdish market.

If Turkey is the colonizer of Kurdish land in Northern Kurdistan, she is endeavoring to be the neo-colonizer of Southern Kurdistan. Turkey has expanded its cultural, political and economic impact over the KRG. Culturally, Fethullah Gülen schools and universities have been opening with KRG help. Economically, none of the regional and international countries can compete with the Turkish presence here. Politically, the KRG has been very cautious not to take any positions that may be against Turkey’s intrigues. The unbalanced relationship between the two has caused many in the Kurdistan Region to fear a return of the Ottoman Sultans.

The oil pipelines are significant in cementing the KRG’s route to a stable and developing economy. At the present time, KRG’s quota of Iraq’s $100 billion-plus budget is 17%. Were it not for the KRG’s extraordinary corruption, nepotism, oligarchy and monopolization of the market and all other fields of society, the region would have become much more developed, democracy and freedom of speech would be thriving and the people would be optimistic about the KRG’s policies, including its oil pipelines policies.

The KRG’s 2013 plans for oil and gas made the Iraq central government more concerned, especially when the KRG signed an oil pipeline project with Turkey to transfer 200.000 bpd (barrels per day) to the international markets.

The oil companies earn considerably more from the KRG’s production sharing contracts than from Iraq’s technical service-contracts and that is why ExxonMobil didn’t worry about the threat from Baghdad’s government to exclude the company from its Southern oil fields.

The Erbil-Baghdad differences remain unresolved and the US has not backed the KRG in this dispute. The US has also been concerned about the developing KRG-Turkey energy cooperation. The US now is in a dilemma as to whether to back or oppose the KRG’s oil policies. Either way, the KRG will continue to seek stronger ties with Turkey.

The US has taken the position that Iraq should not be fragmented, fearful of the tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. It has favored Baghdad in public and so maintained US access to the oil in all parts of the country.  

This clearly shows that the KRG was wrong in thinking that, if ExxonMobil and Chevron enter the Kurdistan’s oil fields, they will effectively lobby for Kurdistan’s interests and protect it from threats from other regional countries and Iraq’s central government. However, the presence of these two giants is probably equivalent to having two US brigades in KRG territory: the US would provide some sort of protection if its oil interests were threatened. Nevertheless, even though Turkey and the US have had very close ties, the US has still taken a position against Turkey for dealing with the KRG without getting Baghdad’s green light.

Oil and gas have made the KRG appear to be a regional energy player. With the completion of KRG-Turkey pipelines at the end of 2013, Kurdistan’s oil can reach international ports.

Turkey-KRG relations are at a peak although they are in reality more between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani and Turkey. The recent Diyarbekir visit of Masoud Barzani and his delegates – and people’s anger and other parties’ concerns at this visit – reveal how these relations have been formulated.

Turkey has about 1000 companies operating in the KRG – more than any other country. The $10 billion Turkish investment and trade has made the KRG an incipient colony of Turkey. The KRG has become a dependent banana republic, even though Turkey is additionally dependent on the KRG market. It is estimated that business between Turkey and the KRG will total a staggering $15 billion in 2013. This is a far more lucrative business for the Turkish Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than that with Germany, the UK or France.

The KRG-Turkey pipeline has created tensions in relations between Turkey and Iraq, as well as between the KRG and Baghdad. However, recent developments between Ankara and Baghdad – including the visit of Turkey’s FM Davutoglou and his official invitation to Iraq’s premier, Al-Maliki – should serve to warn the KRG leadership that – if Ankara can be sure of achieving more from its intrigues with Baghdad than with Erbil – then Turkey may sell out the KRG. There is one very crucial reason for this vulnerability: The KRG currently has no other option than Turkey for reaching the international markets and, especially, the sea.

It is paramount for the KRG to find other routes for its oil and gas. So far, it has only developed regional energy ties with Turkey, a country that has her own Kurdish issue and has massacred thousands of Kurds. In the current situation, the relations between the KRG and Turkey are more or less relations between two political parties, the AKP and KDP. If the political situation changes in either country, the relationship would be imperiled.

Even though the opposition CHP and MHP may not again become major parties in Turkey, there is still a decline in the AKP’s clout, especially following the Gezi protests, as shown by the recent polls in Istanbul. Furthermore the struggle of the Kurdish people in Turkey is advancing and it is obvious that the differences between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and the KDP will not be assist the KDP’s role in developing Turkey-KRG relations because the PKK believes that these relations are being built at its expense.

The KRG should find another way to reach the international ports. It could reach the international market if Barzani and the KDP were smarter and they had normalized relations with the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and could use Rojava to export via Jordan.

Alas, the KRG leadership has instead implemented all the sorts of dirty politics against Rojava – Kurdistan of Syria – instead of building stronger relations and bonds between Kurds.

Rojava has become a major player in Syrian politics and it will shape the post-Assad map of the country. The liberation of the Yaaroubiya border-point from the Al-Qaeda proxies has made the regional and international forces take the PYD seriously. They cannot ignore the PYD anymore. The post-Assad Syria will be hugely in need of economic ties. Rojava can bring Damascus and Erbil closer – only, of course, if Erbil ceases its conspiracies against Rojava.

Another route is to reach Israel’s Haifa International Port. This has also been discussed by some experts although the KRG would need to overcome public suspicions of any deals with Israel.

The KRG is a component of Iraq but it would be easiest to get independence through the division of the country into three states: Kurdistan, Sunnistan and Shiitestan. Indeed this is the only way to stop the bloodshed in Iraq, where sectarian violence is increasing day after day. Last month, the death toll exceeded 1,000 civilians. If this division occurred, Kurds could be friends of both Sunnis and Shiites and could also gain access to the sea via a Shia state.

All in all, if the KRG does not find other routes to reach international markets, its independence from Iraq will turn into dependence on Turkey. The KRG should bear in mind that, while the Kurdish issue in Turkey is unsolved; Turkey will never be an ally of Kurds in the region. If Turkey has become fascinated with the KRG this is only for two reasons: to gain access to the KRG’s resources and markets and to exploit the conflicts between the KDP and PKK.

Copyright © 2013

6 Responses to South Kurdistan: From Oppression to Banana Republic
  1. Lorenzo Garcia
    November 18, 2013 | 10:01

    The Mountains will remain the friends of the kurds. But they will not help to put the kurdish oil into the markets.
    Looking at the map of Kurdistan, which neighbors are better than Turkey? Iran, Syria or South Iraq?
    The kurds have tried for a long time to work with Bagdad and see where they stand.
    If the kurds have to be pragmatic, Turkey is the best party.
    But I agree that to have Turkey in the same bed is not so funny.

  2. Rezqar
    November 18, 2013 | 13:02

    The Mountains used to be the only friends of the Kurds but now everything has changed. Kurds are the best friends of Kurds themselves. To prevail, Kurds need to play wise and iron out their own discrepancies.

  3. Kuvan Bamarny
    November 18, 2013 | 13:24

    Despite all investments ,sources of incomes and the business that KRG does with different companies ,there are still many Kurdish poor people living ,not only under the line of poverty ,but also living without having their basic need met so that to survive.

    A government is formed and supposed to serve the people, but ironically politicians serve their pockets.for example ,I have been living in kurdistan for almost 4 months and I have applied in more than 10 places for a job but can not even find a part time one. I have asked the government to find me a job ,all they did was ,took my phone number and told me that they would look for it and phone me back as soon as they find a job for me but 4 months have passed and not only they ignored my job and basic human needs requests,but also ruined my reputation in the public in the city of duhok and have been pushing me to get out of kurdistan.So you can imagine what type of government and politician rule kurdistan.

    This is what usually happens when you have a government and politician that exercise special rights for themselves and make unlawful decisions under the name of serving poeple.Kurdistan needs an independnt judiciary ( supreme court) or else it is the government is pure autocratic and elections ,democracy and freedom is meaningless for Kurdish people.

  4. Kawa
    November 19, 2013 | 16:05

    Well written article. Can I ask the author of this paper what he would do differently if he was in power in KRG. Iran and Shiia state as you mentioned are not willing to open their doors to Kurds as there is no much mutual benefit. Kurds tried and still in arguments with Baghdad. PYD not only have no power in whole Syria to reach the Mediterranean Sea nor Jordan but it strength is questionable in Rojava. What Kurds need is a sincere and clever a leader, as a Kurdish Erdogan, to ensure best interest for KRG and rest of the Kurds as Erdogan do for his people.

    • Omar
      November 21, 2013 | 17:44

      Correct. Shia Iran is a problem.

      Al-Maliki is a slave to Iran and they seek dis-unity between Sunni factions in Iraq. They drove Tareq Al-Hashimi away and are moving Shias into Diyala. If there was no meddling from Iran and the accursed Shias, things would be more stable not only in Iraq, but in Kurdistan.

      Iraq does not need a revolution, it needs a coup.

  5. […] support for Kurdish independence stems from the aspiration that the KRG will eventually become a vassal of Turkey. Ankara and the KDP have developed strong, particularly economic, ties, while relations between […]

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