jeudi 30 janvier 2014

The Energy Triangle between Turkey – Iraq's central government – KRG

The Energy Triangle between Turkey – Iraq's central government – KRG
Bilgay Duman, ORSAM Middle East Researcher

It appears that the relations between Turkey and Iraq have become tense again upon the news regarding the shipment and even storage of oil and gas from Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to Turkey's Ceyhan Port following the talks on oil and gas held between Turkey an KRG. Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz' statements corroborate the KRG-Turkey oil flow. In his statements, Yildiz reiterated his position on Turkey's Iraq policy that there would not be any attempt to damage Iraq's integrity by also considering sensitivities of Iraq's central government as he reassured them. Turkey maintains its determined attitude in its relations with KRG and takes steps that could pave the way for KRG's oil export. However, here Turkey underlines that the oil received from KRG is the Iraqi oil, and clearly suggests that Turkey will act accordingly.

On the other hand, it is known that Turkey has been holding talks on oil and gas with Iraq's central government, and wants to cooperate with Baghdad on energy. At this point, Turkey's energy relations with KRG might disrupt the (potential) cooperation between Turkey and Iraq's central government. As a matter of fact, there were some news asserting that Iraq was thinking on various alternatives on oil trade last week.(1) It is alleged that Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) is planning on building new pipelines, and even opening the oil pipeline to reach Israel's Haifa port by 2019. Although Iraq has not responded to this allegation, it is not possible to suggest at least for now that the pipelines which are said to be alternative and new are not rational and that they could be an alternative to Turkey. At this point, it would be helpful to study Iraq's oil export routes and to put forth the regional position in order to be more clear.

Iraq's crude oil export reached the highest level in late 2012 before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that Iraq which exported an average of 2,3 million bbl/d of crude oil towards the end of 2012 produced an average of 2,9 million bbl/d of crude oil by the end of 2012. It is said that 400 thousand barrels of this amount was produced in the areas under the control of KRG. Iraq aims at producing 9,5 million bbl/d in 2017.(2) Some 500 thousand barrels of oil is presented for domestic consumption. The most important oil export point of Iraq is the Mina al-Bakr/Al-Basra oil terminal. It is known that only Al-Basra terminal in Iraq operates in full capacity. Here, the strategic importance of Al-Basra, which is Iraq's only port opening to sea, comes to the forefront.

On the other hand, the Kirkuk-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline which is one of the 5 terminals in Iraq and passes through Turkey, is one of the biggest export pipelines of Iraq. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline which is composed of two lines does not operate in full capacity, and from time to time it is not preferred to pump oil via this pipeline for reasons such as lack of security, sabotage and plundering. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline of approximately thousand-km-long has the optimal capacity of exporting some 1.6 million bbl/d of oil. The capacity of the pipeline passing through Turkey is said to be 1.1 million bbl/d. But its maximum capacity was 900 thousand bbl/d of crude oil before the war. There are two other pipelines which are closed except for these two lines. One of them links Kirkuk to Israel's Haifa Port, and the other links Kirkuk to Syria's Banias Port. The Kirkuk-Banias pipeline between Iraq and Syria which was completed in early 1950s is some 552 miles long (888 km). (3) The pipeline which was closed during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) was reopened in 2001; but it was closed again after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The pipeline with capacity of 300,000 bbl/d made it possible to export crude oil as high as 150,000-200,000 bbl/d when it was open. It was brought forward to repair and reopen the pipeline greatly damaged during the U.S. invasion of Iraq which has not been active since 2003. The issue which was firstly brought up to the agenda during Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's visit to Syria in August 2007, was discussed during Iraq's Foreign Minister Hosyar Zebari's visit to Syria in late 2007 and it was declared that it was agreed to reopen the pipeline. Knowing that the parts of pipeline in the Iraqi border had been damaged to a large extent, there is no certain information about the opening date of the pipeline. But it might be suggested that it is not likely the pipeline will be opened in the short term after the crisis in Syria in 2011. Even if the crisis in Syria was solved before long, continuation of instability would not make it possible to revise the pipeline.

On the other hand, it is frequently mentioned in the international public opinion that the 1000-km-long Kirkuk-Haifa Oil Pipeline, completed and opened in 1935; but closed upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, will be reopened. It is known that there are two different projects on reopening the pipeline. One of them envisages to repair and the other one to reconstruct the pipeline. The experts assert that the pipeline will be repaired in a short period of time like in 5-6 months, and it will cost 200 million dollars. However, it is known that the pipeline which has not been operating for 60 years is completely damaged, and its extension in Jordan was sold as a scrap, while the current state of the Israeli extension of the pipeline is not known. On the other hand, reconstruction of the pipeline is on the agenda as well. According to the U.S. Ministry of National Infrastructure, the new pipeline projected to size 105 cm will cost 400 million dollars. However, considering that the great majority of this pipeline will pass through Iraqi territories, the security of this pipeline appears as a significant problem. As is known, many attacks were carried out against the Kirkuk-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline, and export came to a standstill. Furthermore, it might be suggested that it is not likely for Iraq's central government to bring up such a pipeline to the agenda due to the lack of diplomatic relations between Iraq and Israel and due to Iran's influence in Iraq even if an agreement was reached on reconstructing or repairing the pipeline between Iraq and Jordan. But indirect diplomatic relations between KRG and Israel might be taken into consideration. Even if there was an energy link between KRG and Israel at this point, it seems quite difficult in terms of geographical conditions to transfer oil from the regions under KRG control to Israel. Because the oil to be transferred from KRG must reach Israel either through Jordan or through Lebanon via Syria. This being the case, it is highly unlikely for KRG to transfer the oil to Israel via the pipeline.

Even if not on the agenda, it is also possible that Iraq could transfer oil via Iran. According to unofficial records, 2000 tankers of oil per day is sold from KRG via Iran. Also it is known that there have been attempts to improve the cooperation on energy between Iraq's central government and Iran. Considering this mutuality, it is possible to suggest that the Iranian government turned a blind eye on the oil sale from KRG in line with the national interests, and that it kept its relations with Iraq's central government and KRG separately. In this regard, it might be said that Iran acted in accordance with the conjuncture and put forward rational policies.

In that sense, Turkey considers its relations with Iraq's central government and KRG independently from one another. Nevertheless, for Turkey the relationships established with both Iraq's central government and KRG correspond to main dynamics of Turkey's Iraq policy, and the relations are maintained within the framework of Iraq's integrity. From this point forth, it is possible to suggest that Turkey assesses its relations with KRG and Iraq's central government separately from one another, and that it avoids interfering in the crisis of authority between KRG and Iraq's central government. Hence, it can be said that Turkey regards the relations between KRG and Iraq's central government as “Iraq's domestic political issue”. As a result, we can suggest that Turkey has been pursuing a policy of balance by staying out of political, administrative and economic problems between the central government and KRG, and it will continue to pursue this policy. On the other hand, it is also seen that under current conditions, the projects put forward cannot be an alternative to Turkey. It appears that Turkey is also the best alternative for Iraq which desires to take major steps on energy in the short term. In this respect, there is a mutuality between Turkey and Iraq. Therefore, it is obvious that it would be to the benefit of both countries if they did not ruin the strong and lasting cooperation for temporary political interests.

(1) Yeni Şafak Gazetesi, “Petrolde By-pass Hamlesi”,, Access: 20 January 2014.
(2), Access: 20 January 2014.
(3), Amerikan Enerji Enformasyon Dairesi Irak Ülke Analizi 2001, Access: 20 January 2014.

27 January 2014

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