Column – Does the Kurdistan Region Have Alternatives to Turkey?


By Wladimir van Wilgenburg – Could a change in government in neighboring Syria offer Iraq’s autonomous and landlocked Kurdistan Region an alternative to dependence on Turkey for oil and gas exports? According to Middle East expert Ruba Husari, it can, especially if Syrian Kurds also succeed in gaining autonomy in the future. In an article for the Carnegie Middle East Center, she suggested that an alignment of interests between the Kurds of Syria and Iraq could offer the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) an alternative to dependence on Turkey as an oil-gas corridor.

But this seems unlikely.

Husari suggests that the “degree of autonomy that a new regime emerging in Syria would be able to grant Syrian Kurds — as well as the latter’s ability to carve out an autonomous region within the new state — will determine whether Iraq’s Kurds will be able to free themselves from the pressures of Ankara and Baghdad and establish a direct export route for their hydrocarbons via Syrian Kurdish territory.”

However, Syria’s own Kurdish areas contain oil and gas, but will themselves be dependent for exports on either Turkey, Syria’s future government or the KRG — more specifically on the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which controls the border near the Kurdish areas of Syria.

Some analysts think the Syrian Kurds have this access, but this is not the case.

Often analysts forget the fact that Kurds — including Syrian Kurds — are landlocked and therefore always dependent on others not only for gas and oil exports, but also for imports.  Moreover, the current tensions between the KDP and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) could make cooperation between Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Kurds difficult in the future. The oil industry knows the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) controls most of Syria’s Kurdish areas.

At an oil forum in Washington DC last month, KRG energy minister Ashti Hawrami made clear that for the Kurdistan Region there is no alternative to Turkey.  He said exports were possible through Iran and Syria, “But we infinitely prefer dealing with Turkey, for several advantages: first of all, the infrastructure — more or less ready. The corridor is already being used for oil supply,” he said.

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has also suggested that the only door of hope for Iraqi Kurds – or the KDP — is Turkey. The Iraqi Kurds cannot simply fly out oil and gas; they need pipelines. And those pipelines are the guarantee of possibly more independence or autonomy in the future. But for this, they need cooperation with one of their neighbors.