14 Mayıs 2013 Salı
Turkey agrees energy deal with Kurdish north Iraq
Turkey has defied both Washington and Baghdad by agreeing an energy deal with the north of Iraq that the US warns could further fracture the Middle Eastern state, but which Ankara sees as central to its own future.
Several Turkish officials confirm Ankara struck a secretive framework agreement earlier this year with the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government of Northern Iraq for Turkish state energy companies to take stakes in the region’s oil and gasfields. They add the deal is still so sensitive that it is unlikely to be acknowledged publicly until after a visit by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington this week, a trip that takes place against a backdrop of increased tension in Iraq itself.
The agreement, together with Turkey’s political opening towards its own Kurdish population, is set to bolster Ankara’s influence in the energy-rich north of Iraq and could help it generate sufficient energy supplies to meet its ambitious growth targets. Mr Erdogan has previously described the deal as a “win win”.
Kurdish officials welcome closer relations. “Let’s be honest: Turkey is our door to the world,” said one, pointing to the KRG’s problematic ties with other neighbours. “Look at the [strained] situation with Iran, Syria, the rest of Iraq . . . Turkey is a big power in the region and, if it follows good policies like at the moment, why not be an ally?”
But the central Iraqi government in Baghdad says that without its permission the energy agreement violates the Iraqi constitution. A direct pipeline link to Turkey under the deal would give the KRG, which already has its own military force, much greater economic independence than before. At present, the only export pipelines available to the region are federally controlled and the KRG has halted exports through them because of a budget dispute with Baghdad.
Washington has also campaigned hard against the Kurdish-Turkish deal, with John Kerry, secretary of state, calling Masoud Barzani, the KRG’s president, in March to warn him against concluding an agreement with Turkey or any other state in the face of Baghdad’s opposition.
“The US have their views on certain issues, we have ours,” said a senior Turkish official. “They cannot speak so strongly on a matter of strategic and national interest.” He added that the stability of Iraq would not be served by further concentrating power in the hands of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister.
US officials fear that, by further alienating Mr Maliki, a deal could push Iraq closer to Iran, while heightening the tensions between the KRG and the central government. Washington hopes to reduce the impact of the deal on already frayed diplomatic ties between the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and Sunni-majority Turkey.
The tensions between the two capitals was highlighted last week when Mr Maliki said it was unacceptable for fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, to enter Iraq from Turkey. The Kurdish fighters’ current pullout from Turkish territory is a key part of the peace process between Ankara and the outlawed group.
With an annual energy import bill of more than $50bn, Ankara wants to guarantee sufficient energy supplies to meet its ambitious economic goals and officials voice their regret at having passed up previous deals in the past with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
Indeed, five years after Turkey and the KRG came close to conflict because of Kurdish militant activity in Northern Iraq, some diplomats suggest the region could become a virtual client statelet for Ankara while remaining within Iraqi frontiers. About 1,000 Turkish companies are active in the landlocked territory, which depends on Turkey’s roads and ports for access to Europe.
Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, has talked of a “stateless union” between Kurdish populations in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, which would increase integration while maintaining borders. Meanwhile, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has called for the Middle East to make the region’s current “artificial” borders irrelevant – rhetoric that has particular resonance on the border between Turkey and the KRG.