Iraq oil minister slams KRG on Turkey trip

March 10, 2008 at 9:22 PM
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ANKARA, Turkey, March 10 (UPI) -- Iraq's oil minister reaffirmed ties with Turkey and rejected Iraqi Kurdistan's oil deals in visits to Ankara over the weekend.

Turkey, which wants to further develop Iraq oil and gas to ship to and through its territory, is also sparring with Iraq's Kurds over rebels in the northern Iraq mountains.

Hussain al-Shahristani made overtures to Turkey on a project to build a refinery in Iraq, which badly needs fuels, and other joint projects between the countries' respective oil firms, Today's Zaman reports.

Iraq already has a pipeline sending oil to a Turkish port. The countries have talked of adding another line and increasing flow, which is below capacity, as well as adding a parallel line to send Iraqi gas north.

"Iraq is open to the world when it comes to oil cooperation especially with the neighboring countries," Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told United Press International last week. He said the pipeline is sending between 250,000 and 350,000 barrels per day to Turkey, and the short-term goal is 500,000. Jihad said gas in Iraq's western desert could be developed and sent to Turkey, and on to Europe, via Syria as well.

"So Turkey is a spot of our oil and gas transferring to the outside world," he said.

After a meeting with Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler, Shahristani assured "all contracts will be handled by the central government, referring to the Kurdistan Regional Government's dozens of oil deals with international oil companies.

The move, as well as a regional oil law, has challenged Baghdad's control over the oil sector in Iraq. Shahristani has called the deals illegal, stopped oil sales to two firms that signed with the KRG and threatened to keep all such firms out of future Iraqi oil deals.

Turkey views the deals as emboldening Iraq's Kurds, possibly bolstering their future call for an independent state and empowering Turkey's sizeable Kurdish population. Turkey has recently stepped up attacks, including a five-day incursion, on the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party's camps in northern Iraq mountains. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, Turkey and, ostensibly, Iraq. The organization has killed tens of thousands in its decades-long quest for Kurdish independence and human rights in Turkey.

In an opening on Turkish-Kurdish relations, the Iraq delegation was led by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

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