Turkey Wary Of Iraqi Kurdish Plans To Export Oil Via Ceyhan
Turkey is watching carefully moves towards greater autonomy in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and would weigh its options if Kurds sought independently to export crude oil produced there via Ceyhan. In an exclusive interview with MEES on 21 June, Egemen Bagis, Foreign Policy Adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, also said that Turkey's emergence as major energy export hub could not be separated from its foreign policy objectives.
Commenting on the recent efforts of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq to develop its crude oil resources through agreements with international oil companies, Mr Bagis told MEES that Turkey would "seriously consider any future request for expanded volumes of oil to pass through the Ceyhan terminal if it came from the central government in Baghdad. However, it would be more difficult if the request came from the regional government. And we would have to consider our response very carefully. We naturally respect the constitution of Iraq, but a regional authority is not a national one." He went on to say that a priority of Turkish foreign policy was to "ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq along with the equitable distribution of its resources."
Political observers in Turkey say that Mr Bagis' comments, couched in the oblique language of Turkish diplomacy, represent a signal that Ankara regards the development of an independent oil sector in Kurdistan as a dangerous step towards economic and political autonomy. Turkey has consistently stated that it would take steps to prevent such a move – for fear that this might encourage its own Kurdish minority in the southeast of the country to demand similar independence. "I think this is a warning to the Kurds of Iraq that they will have to behave responsibly and keep their house in order," said political scientist Soli Uzal of Istanbul's Bilge University.
Mr Bagis went on to say that Ankara's response to any request for Ceyhan to become an export outlet for Kurdish oil would depend on a number of factors, including the Iraqi Kurdish government's attitude to "the terrorism issue and the PKK" – the militant Kurdish organization fighting for independence from Turkey. In recent months there have been renewed clashes between Turkish troops and PKK fighters after a lull of some years.
The expansion of trans-Turkish export routes for Iraqi oil has long been a key element in Turkish energy strategy as it seeks to become a leading energy conduit to Europe. But any request made by the autonomous Kurdish government in Northern Iraq to the Turkish government for access to the Ceyhan export facility would create a series of political dilemmas for Ankara. On the face of it Turkey would be in a strong position to demand Iraqi Kurdish support in the fight against the PKK if it allowed oil from Kurdistan to be exported via Ceyhan. But Ankara would be highly unlikely to cooperate in such a venture if the Iraqi Kurdish authorities withheld oil revenues from Baghdad. Cooperation under these circumstances would be tantamount to recognition of an independent Kurdistan and a direct reversal of Turkish government policy.
Mr Bagis insisted that while the government was keeping its options open, and would consider possible cooperation with multinationals operating in the region, Ankara was concerned that "if only one area [of Iraq] receives all the revenue from its oil exports this would lead to civil war." Norway's DNO recently announced the discovery of oil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and agreements have been signed by the government there with firms from Australia, Canada, Kuwait and Turkey (MEES, 19 June and 6 March). Aside from its determination to develop their own regional oil sector, the Kurdish authorities are also pursuing their claim to sovereignty over Kirkuk – the center of Iraq's northern oil industry.
Published by Middle East Economic Survey on 26/06/2006.