The relationship between Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish population has been a hostile one for decades. Oil has remained a centerpiece in their relationship struggle and the tussle reopened this week when Baghdad announced the Kurdish oil contracts as illegal and not authorized. In the last few days, that rift has rocketed the oil sales authority question. Should the Kurdish oil fields sales authority be in the hands of State oil Organization or with the Kurdish Oil Organization? Is the long over due Kurdish Independence looming?
Kurdistan as it is popularly known in the region, is an autonomous region of Northern Iraq. Kurdish people are the largest ethnic community in the world who do not have their own country. Saddam Hussein had oppressed the region for decades and branded the Kurdish people as infidels and second class Iraqi citizens. The United Nation had recorded cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing during the mid eighties and in the nineties post Gulf War under Saddam rule, before the Kurdish fought the regime and created their regional government.
This oil conflict started because Baghdad failed to pay the Kurdish regional government money for the oil used according to the international oil corporation rules (IOC). Kurdish side say that Baghdad paid the dues before when they exported one hundred thousand oil barrels from the Iraq-Turkey pipeline which runs through the Kurdish region, but they later rejected the payments and their dues have piled up. Citing this incident the Kurdish regional government decided recently that they would convert the power supply pipe going to a southern district into an oil pipeline. A clear answer to Baghdad and the world that they can not trust the federal government in Baghdad any longer and are eyeing an independent state for themselves.
Kurdish people have aspired to become a secular independent state for decades. Kenan Makiya’s book on the Saddam regime in Iraq called Republic of Fear is a horrific read. Makiya was a former member of the Iraqi establishment under Saddam and he was a first hand witness of the atrocities Saddam committed on the Kurdish population of Northern Iraq and common Iraqis in general. He had to write that book under the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil and the book was banned in Iraq after the first gulf war which Saddam survived. The Kurdish people were on the side of the intervention in Iraq and helped the NATO forces to liberate the country. Since then the new Iraqi government has work amicably with the Kurdish regional government but, this hostile U-turn from Baghdad now is a big concern for the development of Iraq.
Baghdad threatened to blacklist all the Kurdish oil companies if they demanded the dues from them as they have the backing of the federal government. Experts say this move is because Baghdad wants the local Kurdish people to revolt against its regional government once the economy starts to fall due to the oil restrictions and they can possess more control over Kurdistan. This is a rare contingency as the Kurdish people have remained united knowing the history and intentions of the central government in Baghdad. Pundits says this conflict has driven them away from Baghdad and a desire to become independent.
Interestingly, few Iraqi oil companies have threatened Baghdad to cut oil supplies if they sign a compromise with the Kurdish oil Corporation. This seems like an age old rift between the Arabic Iraq and the Kurdish one. Many strong voices in Kurdistan say if Baghdad wants to starve them then, Independence will be the best way out for both sides. The international community is very angry already with Baghdad’s decision to sign a huge arms deal with Iran as reported by Reuters. The arms deal is a clear violation of international law by Baghdad.
If this oil conflict continues in Iraq there seems to be a bigger fight on the cards in the coming months. Kurdish people of northern Iraq along with a large oppressed minority in Iraq bordering Turkey are going to fight for an independent secular democratic state that Baghdad and other players in the region have long suppressed.
Opinion By Vikas Vemuri