Inside Story

Iraqi Kurdistan: Oil, politics and power

We ask if Iraq’s prime minister can resolve disputes over territory and oil to finally reunite the country.

Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, makes a rare visit to the semi-autonomous Kurdish north, a region that could hold the key to Iraq’s future prosperity and stability.

So a lot is at stake for the visit of Nouri al-Maliki:

This is the first step after a long time of a deadlock ... Kurdistan's prime minister went to Baghdad a few weeks ago and promised to take the first step in the right direction .... It is difficult to predict the outcome ... but psychologically it is important for the people of Kurdistan that Maliki is going to Kurdistan, that there is a dialogue going on and that there is hope.

by Khaled Salih, a political scientist and former spokesman of the Kurdistan Regional Government

First, there is power-sharing, in fact, Kurdish support was essential for al-Maliki’s coalition government, but a power-sharing agreement has fallen apart.

There is also disputed territories as many areas in the region are still claimed by both sides.

Then, there is oil. Kurds say they have the right to control their own reserves.

And finally there is identity – Kurds share a common geographical territory and language, with many favouring an independent Kurdish state.

Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region, made his feelings clear in a statement in September 2012.

“The Kurds will not live in the shadow of a dictatorial regime. The right to decide our destiny is a legitimate one and we ask others not to try to take this right from us,” he said.

May has been the worst month in Iraq since 2008, with more than 1,000 people killed.

A series of bomb attacks north of Baghdad on Monday claimed yet more lives.Two car-bombs and a suicide attack targeted a mainly Shia market town near the city of Baquba. Besides, on Saturday, a suicide bomber rammed a car into an army checkpoint in a Shia neighbourhood in Baghdad, killing five soldiers and two civilians, drawing therefore this response from the Iraqi prime minister:

“The region is going through a new tempest, a reckless and sectarian tempest, a tempest of chaos in most countries of the area. And one of its most dangerous aspects is the return of extremist organisations like al-Qaeda and the Nasra Front and other advocates of radicalism and sectarianism, sometimes regrettably backed by Fitwas (religious decrees): a matter that brings back the ghost of fear of a return of violence, not only in Iraq, but in the whole region.”

People in Iraq’s Kurdish region are increasingly striking out on their own, especially in Iraq’s northeast.
Erbil is the regional capital that has taken care of its own affairs since 1991, when Saddam Hussein’s troops left the area after the Gulf War.

Ever since his re-election, everything Maliki has done has made the situation worse ... Given the other problems he has ... he really does not need a Kurdish problem.

by Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, and a former US assistant secretary of defence

It is the country’s most prosperous and secure region, which has strengthened its economy, and helped encourage foreign investment.

However, part of its budget is still paid for by the national government, from oil revenues.

Oil is at the heart of much of the tensions between Kurds in the north and the central government in Iraq.

The Kurds used to ship crude through a pipeline controlled by Baghdad, but that came to an abrupt halt in December because of a disagreement about payments to oil companies.

The semi-autonomous Kurdish region has now almost completed its own pipeline, which will run from the Tawke oilfield in the north to Turkey – cutting out Iraq.

This decision has angered Baghdad which insists it should control all of Iraq’s oil. But with deals between the Kurds and Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp and Total, it seems the region’s leaders are well-placed to proceed on their own.

So, will Iraq’s prime minister’s visit to the Kurdish north help in solving the Iraqi issues and unite this country wracked by violence and division?

To answer these questions, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Khaled Salih, a political scientist and former spokesman of the Kurdistan Regional Government; Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, and a former US assistant secretary of defence; and Torhan al-Mufti, currently Iraq’s minister of communications and minister of provincial affairs.

“The whole political sides, from Sunni, Shia, and Turkmen and Christians and all the other political sides … are realising the kind of danger they are faced to, so they are starting to have meetings together and they are trying to calm down the political situation.”

Torhan al-Mufti, Iraq’s minister of communications and minister of provincial affairs