Baghdad sells Kirkuk's oil as it stalls
June 3, 2012
KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region,
— In Iraq’s transitional constitution after the fall
of Saddam Hussein in 2003, 43 percent of areas
historically claimed by the Kurds were considered
"disputed" and tied to Article 58, later to be
changed to Article 140 in the permanent
constitution. One of these disputed territories is
the province of Kirkuk.
Although Article 140 stipulates equal power-sharing
between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional
Government (KRG), the central government has the
upper hand in running and administering the
province. Its powers include controlling the budget
of the province, signing oil contracts and exporting
oil. The KRG does not have any form of control over
the North Oil Company of Kirkuk.
Over the past two years, Baghdad has made exporting
oil from the new oilfield of Iraqi Kurdistan a
condition for giving the KRG its 17 percent share of
the Iraqi budget. However, Baghdad has been
exporting Kirkuk’s oil as if the Kurds have no share
in it, despite it being a disputed region.
There are other regions -- like Khanaqin, Makhmur,
Shangar and Shekhan -- that fall within the disputed
territories, but their budgets and administration
are still controlled by Baghdad.
Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk, says, "The
stability in this province is tied to the political
relations between Baghdad and KRG. When relations
are good, so is the situation in the disputed
Nuri Talabani, a constitutional expert, attributes
the instability in Kirkuk to domestic and external
factors. "The United States is the reason why the
problem of the disputed areas is still hanging in
the balance. The Kurds wanted to immediately annex
these regions after 2003, but the U.S. did not allow
it," Talabani says.
After the fall of Saddam in 2003, these disputed
regions were not under the control of either Baghdad
or the KRG, but the KRG was able to seize control in
the heat of events.
"The existence of two powers and authorities in the
Kurdistan Region -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
(PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Union (KDP) --
and the power struggle between them became the main
hindrance to resolving the Kirkuk issue,” Talabani
believes. “Baghdad has manipulated this weakness
until the present day."
Regarding the weakness of Kurdish authorities in
Kirkuk, the governor blames the Kurdish officials.
"They turned Kirkuk into a disputed area when
originally it was not,” he says. “Their mistakes of
the past are still unchanged. The fall of Saddam's
regime in 2003 was a big opportunity for the Kurds,
but they missed this chance."
According to Iraqi statistics from 1957, the
majority of Kirkuk residents were Kurdish, but after
the Arabization process many of them and some
Turkmen were forced out and replaced with Arabs from
the south and center of Iraq.
"Fifty-four percent of the residents of Kirkuk are
currently Kurds," says Governor Karim. In Kirkuk’s
first provincial elections in 2005, Kurds won 63
percent of the votes.
Now the fate of the city is tied to Article 140,
which was supposed to be implemented by the end of
2007 and would have decided whether the disputed
areas would join the autonomous region of Kurdistan
or remain part of Iraq.
Kurdish officials blame the Iraqi government for
stalling Article 140. But Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki claims he has done his part concerning the
implementation of the article and that the rest
depends upon the Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.
Adnan Mufti, a senior member of the PUK and former
speaker of Parliament, says, "We consider Kirkuk
part of Kurdistan; so does the history and geography
of this province. At the same time, we abide by the
Iraqi constitution to achieve the goal of proving
its Kurdish identity."
After the parliamentary elections of 2010, the
implementation of Article 140 was one of Kurdistan’s
conditions for agreeing to join the current Iraqi
government. Two years on, the Article is still stuck
at its first phase, normalization, which precedes
the census and referendum phases.
"The Kurds must seriously reconsider the Erbil
Agreement, which had the implementation of Article
140 as its main condition." Governor Karim says.
The Erbil Agreement was an initiative by Kurdish
President Massoud Barzani that resulted in the
formation of the current Iraqi government. Now
Barzani says that he does not trust PM Maliki
because he has broken his promise to fulfill the
conditions of the agreement and is heading towards
Abdulfattah Abdulrazzaq, an expert in international
law and constitution, says the Kurdish authority in
Kirkuk should end based on the constitution.
"According to the Iraqi constitution, Article 110
covers the authority of regions and provinces, and
states that the executive, legislative and judicial
authority of the KRG to be withdrawn to the borders
of April 9, 2003,” he says. “This means the KRG has
authority only in the three provinces of Erbil,
Duhok and Sulaimaniyah, but not Kirkuk.”
Abdulrazzaq adds, "The Iraqi government has
judicial, legislative and executive authority in
Kirkuk, but the KRG does not."
However, this line marks the authority of the KRG,
not the geographical boundaries of the Kurdistan
Region, and this region has been classified as
disputed by the Iraqi constitution.
"These regions have been identified as disputed
areas in the Iraqi constitution, which implies that
the problems in these areas have not been resolved
yet,” says Nuri Talabani. “This means that the KRG
has the same authority in those areas as Baghdad and
the Kurds must have a role and voice in running
The central government of Iraq and the KRG are in a
continuous power struggle in Kirkuk. Sometimes these
struggles have reached the level of threatening each
other. In May 2011,www.ekurd.net
a large number of Kurdish Peshmerga forces were
mobilized to Kirkuk when some Arab groups tried to
kick out Kurdish security forces (Asayish).
According to a current agreement between Baghdad and
the KRG, the Kurdish 12th Brigade is stationed on
the outskirts of Kirkuk along with the Iraqi army.
The Kurdish president stated that the cannons of the
Iraqi army have been directed at the Kurdistan
Region since Maliki’s recent visit to Kirkuk
province last month.
"The presence of Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk is
according to an agreement between the Iraqi Defense
Ministry and the Ministry of Peshmerga of the
Kurdistan Region," says Karim.
During his visit to Kirkuk, Maliki stated that none
of the "illegal" forces should remain in Kirkuk,
which was rejected from the Kurdish side.
Nuri Talabani advises Kurdish officials "to keep the
Asayish forces in Kirkuk and not allow the Iraqi
army to enter the city of Kirkuk. They should also
work on keeping the Kirkuk airfield under the
authority of Kirkuk administration and remove the
Iraqi armed forces from it."
According to experts, Kirkuk’s oil reserve is
estimated to be around 25 billion barrels; 15
billion barrels have been extracted since 1927. The
governor of Kirkuk says that 400,000 barrels a day
were extracted by the previous regime. Now, 500,000
barrels are extracted daily.
The governor of Kirkuk thinks that exporting more
oil is a positive thing. "The more the better for
Kirkuk province because we get more petrodollars,"
he says, a system that gives one U.S. dollar to the
province of Kirkuk for each extracted barrel of
The revenue from oil and the supervision of oil
contracts in Kirkuk are controlled by the Iraqi
government, without any consultation with the KRG.
For this reason, the KRG has warned some oil
companies working in the Kurdistan Region against
signing any contracts regarding Kirkuk with Baghdad
without their permission.
Hama Jaza Salih, a KRG adviser for oil and gas,
says, "Oil extraction from the disputed region
should be through a mutual agreement between Baghdad
and the KRG, but the Iraqi government exports more
than 500,000 barrels of oil without consulting with
Adnan Kirkuki, a member of the KDP leadership
council in Kirkuk, considers the one-sided control
by Baghdad in Kirkuk to be illegal.
"The Kurds have previously shown their ability to
challenge Baghdad by stopping the flow of
electricity from Kirkuk to Baghdad,” he says. “Now,
as a means of political pressure, the Kurds can stop
the export of oil. Until the issue of the disputed
areas is resolved, the Kurds have as much authority
in Kirkuk as Baghdad.”
In the provincial council of Kirkuk, and behind the
desk of Kirkuk governor, there is only the Iraqi
flag. There are no signs of the Kurdish flag in the
government institutions of Kirkuk either, as if the
province has been stripped of its Kurdish identity
or the issue of the disputed area has been resolved
in favor of the central government.
"Kurdish flags will be raised in government
institutions as soon as Kirkuk becomes part of the
Kurdistan Region,” says Mufti. “We can see the
Kurdish national flag in the other disputed areas
such as Khanaqin, Shangar and Makhmur, but the
tensions in Kirkuk are different from the ones in
Constitutional expert Abdulrazzaq says the issue of
the Kurdish flag is political.
"According to the constitution and laws, the
national flag of the Kurdistan Region must be raised
only in the Kurdistan Region,” he says. “Since
Kirkuk is legally not part of the Kurdistan Region,
it is not possible to raise the Kurdish flag here.
The issue of raising the Kurdish flag is political
rather than legal.”
For his part, Kirkuk governor says he will abide by
any decision made by the Kurdish Parliament as
regards the Kurdish flag.
"Let the political powers of the Kurdistan Region
and Kurdish Parliament make a political decision to
raise the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk and I will be ready
to abide by it,” he says. “But Kirkuk will not
become part of Kurdistan through raising flags; it
needs sincere efforts.”
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