Oil, the main element in establishing the country of Iraq during the division of the Ottoman Empire, is still the main economic factor that drives all politics in the country. Nationalizing the oil in 1972, made the state’s economy dependent upon oil revenues to fund Iraq’s budget. It also cemented the relationship of oil with the country’s economic growth. It paid for the cost of wars with the neighbors and strengthened the regimes. Now, at least Forty-five years since Iraq’s national oil company Establishment, we now see in 2017 that the oil net revenues as a percent of Gross Domestic Product of Iraq were about 37.78% and the share of oil revenue in federal annual budget stands at more than 88% in 2019!
After 2003, despite the fundamental changes to the Iraqi government, which included Democratic elections, and critical Republican Reform which have yet to be enacted, Oil may have regained its position as the hero, saving the government from a lack of economic muscle, specifically, industrial capacity, heavy and light Manufacturing infrastructure, as well as economic diversification. These factors and the devastation of several wars have created a weak economy. There has been a sharp rise of the public’s discontent recently as expectations of a growing economy, with prosperity for the citizens of Iraq have failed to materialize. These protests have shaken the elected government to its very foundation. Iraq’s reaction resulted in over 300 people having been killed.
Reasonably, the state’s oil production has received scrutiny and highest priority of the Iraqi federal government.
Recently, crude oil production has risen to 4.62 million barrels per day(bpd). The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) share of is about 450,000 bpd, equating to just less than 10% of total Crude Oil production.
The KRG started its own oil development plan in 2002, while Saddam Hussein was still ruling over Iraq. Since the post-Saddam era, specifically in 2006, KRG, under authority granted under various provisions of the newly enacted Iraqi Federal Constitution, primarily articles of 111, 112, 114 & 115, established the necessary institutions to effectively manage oil production, distribution and sales, placed under the administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), to follow up its ambitious plans for the region’s oil and gas sector. The regional Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament approved the Ministry’s establishment in lawful accordance to the Constitution with the enactment of the Regional Oil and Gas Law in 2007. It is important to note the Federal Government at that time did not contest the actions of the KRG as it was under authority granted by the Newly enacted Constitution.
International Oil Corporations(IOC’s) were invited to bid on the development of various oil blocks and the winning bidders were awarded contacts for oil exploration and Production. Hence, the KRG’s exclusive pipeline has been connected to the Turkey since 2014. This pipeline currently operates at a capacity of 700,000bpd. It is expected to be expanded and reached an increased capacity of one million bpd by 2021.
Control over Kurdistan’s oil and gas sector, most importantly, revenue from product sales is the primary point of contention between Baghdad and Erbil. The negotiations are over Kurdistan’s independent sale and export of crude oil that began in 2014, facilitated by completion of its major pipeline and the commencement of production, enabling KRG’s independent export.
Since 2014, Former Iraqi federal governments have tried multiple ways to deprived KRG from directing Kurdistan’s oil including curtailment of KRG’s share of the federal budget. Cash flows were cutoff even while KRG’s Peshmerga forces were engaged in the war against ISIS. Baghdad has used multiple methods to restrain the lawful sale and export of Crude oil that have included the following:
It filed formal complaints to federal and international courts; It threatened IOCs for working in Kurdistan; as well as making a claim in International Chamber of Commerce against Turkey for its cooperation with KRG to transport, storage and sale of Kurdistan’s oil in Turkey’s Port of Ceyhan.
While successes in Kurdistan’s oil industry grew, so too, did Baghdad challenges to that success.
Yet despite all the conflicts between Baghdad and Erbil, both followed their development plans seriously, to sufficiently empower themselves to assure their separate growth. Iraq created its target to reach 6million bpd, almost entirely dependent upon Basra and Kirkuk oil fields. The problem Baghdad faces is that while further development of the Basra oil fields require huge infrastructural development investments, Kirkuk’s fields, contain more than 9 billion barrels of oil, that can reach a record production of 1million bpd rapidly, if export solutions are found. Kirkuk oil fields and the historical and emblematic, Baba Gurgur. These oil fields were first developed in Iraq by Turkish Petroleum Company, directed mainly by Anglo-Persian Oil Company, British Petroleum’s(bp) predecessor. The development license of the Kirkuk oil fields was granted to bp by Iraqi Ministry of Oil, in 2009, despite Kirkuk being one of “the disputed areas” with a majority Kurdish Population, addressed in Article 140 of the Iraqi Federal Constitution “to [be] determine[by] their citizens will” to join Kurdistan Regional Government or to remain within Iraq.
However, bp operations in Kirkuk had to be suspended, after Iraqi forces withdrew in 2014 instead of fighting against ISIS forces’ threatens against this region, when Kurdish Peshmerga saved the area and came it under civilian control. But after October 16, 2017, when Iraqi forces prevailed Kirkuk as a response to Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum, bp immediately returned Kirkuk to continue her contract, ended permanently in January, 2020, after continuing the instability and lack of security in absence of Kurdish forces in Kirkuk, as well as in lack hopes to have robust solution for exporting the product, caused of weak relationship between bp and KRG, despite Kurdistan’s government welcomed to export some part of Kirkuk product through her export pipeline.
Yet, the 2018 elections in both of Iraq and KRG created new chances to bring the governments closer. The last Iraqi government, which would be replaced soon by cabinet of new designated P.M’s, KRG have come together to calm the situation since last year. It was effectively confirmed by the new KRG P.M, H.E “Masrour Barzani”, visiting Baghdad after he was designated by Kurdistan Parliament and wrote about his plans in the Washington Post, “I will also take steps to reset the relationship between Irbiland Baghdad, which has remained fraught for the past 16 years”…. and “It is time for a more constructive and stable partnership with Baghdad.” (Washington post, July 18, 2019)
However, Erbil continues to respect the spirit of cooperation with Baghdad, despite current demonstrations and unclear future of the central government.
KRG had determined that it would support Iraq’s oil production plan by exporting more than 100,000 bpd of Kirkuk’s oil via Kurdistan’s pipeline since last July. Also, Kurdistan’s government has taken further steps to foster good will with Baghdad to satisfy central government’s condition regarding Kurdistan’s share in the 2020 federal budget.
Kurdistan’s Oil infrastructure and production achievements, including its pipeline, were once fiercely objected to by previous Iraqi federal governments as illegal, and its own production capabilities, even to the point of being under the Iraqi central government’s control. Yet today Kurdistan’s pipeline infrastructure and oil production that did not even exist in the past are now used legitimately by Kurdistan government in order to bring more economical development and welfare to the Kurdistan’s citizens. With this recent symbiotic relations with Baghdad could possibly improve permanently, and with the cooperation of Baghdad the rights of the KRG would be observed and honored designated in the federal constitution.
Yet we know that only a strong Kurdistan through the will of the people will truly secure Kurdistan’s rights, granted to KRG under the Iraqi federal Constitution and must be respected. Peace and security for Kurdistan will help improve stability and security for Iraq, and in the bigger scope for the region, hoped to be continued in the long run, especially by the future federal government of Iraq and parliament.