Ankara asks Washington to keep its nose out of Turkey’s relations with Iraqi Kurdistan

April 19, 2013 – Wladimir van Wilgenburg – ANKARA,— Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked Washington to keep its nose out of Ankara’s relations with the Kurdistan Region, the energy-rich autonomous enclave in northern Iraq that the US cautions must stop signing direct oil deals with Turkey, instead of going through Baghdad.

In an interview with Turkey’s conservative Yeni Safak daily that appeared last weekend, Erdogan stressed that Ankara can establish “all kinds of relations with northern Iraq within the limit of its constitution. Our current steps are being taken within that framework,” he said.

US President Barack Obama’s administration has been critical of oil deals between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region, fearing it could drive Iraq’s Shiite-led government in Baghdad closer to Iran, which is also predominantly Shiite.

The US also fears that, if the Kurdistan Region becomes economically free of Baghdad, that could fuel aspirations of independence. The Reuters news agency recently reported that the Kurdistan Region intends to export crude directly to world markets via Turkey within a few months, after finishing a pipeline linking Genel Energy’s Taq Taq oilfield to an existing Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline. Earlier this month, a Kurdish delegation in Washington tried to convince the Obama administration to be neutral in the oil- and gas dispute between Erbil and Baghdad, which says that oil deals signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are illegal.


US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged KRG President Massoud Barzani by phone not to conclude separate energy deals with Turkey, suggesting that “separate efforts undercut the unity of the country.”

Erdogan said he had informed both Obama and Kerry that, “We have mutual interests in Iraq, just as they do.”

The Turkish premier added that the Iraqi government was not providing gas or diesel oil, which are obtained after crude oil is refined, to the Kurdish administration.“Consequently, they turned to us and asked for gas and diesel oil in exchange for crude oil, and we said that we were in favor of such a deal,” Erdogan told the daily.

Erdogan called on the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which is locked in disputes with Iraq’s Kurds, the large minority Sunnis and certain Shiite groups, to fix those relations. He said Turkey could not “damage” ties with political groups that oppose the government.

“We have certain relations with all of them. Maliki should, before all else, normalize his relations with all sections, including those we mentioned,” Erdogan advised.

Shwan Zulal, a political and security risk analyst, told Rudaw that there were several factors behind Turkey’s decision to proceed with energy deals with the Kurdistan Region, despite US opposition. He said that Turkey, which is engaged in historic peace talks with the separatist and militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), wants better ties with the Kurds “to help in solving the Kurdish issue and keep a leverage on the KRG and Baghdad.” He said Ankara wanted to improve ties with the Kurds also due to the volatile situation in neighboring Syria, whose Kurds also are hoping for autonomy in the wake of the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.