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Kurdistan’s peace-building pipeline?

Khaled Salih Khaled Salih December 21, 2014 Columns
Kurdistan’s peace-building pipeline?
In summer 2006, the first federal government was formed after the new Iraqi constitution was approved by a clear majority of the voters. Four out of five voted in favour of the constitution, negotiated a year earlier. In may ways, the political agreement that was later formulated as a federal constitution was suppose to work as a peace accord for what was labeled as a new Iraq. Iraq’s constituent units and their leaders expected a fresh start to re-build the country based on several new ideas. One of them was to share the oil revenue in a just and fair manner.

Kurdistan had a very negative experience since 1930s in that regard. Much of the oil income was used to militarise the country. Very little, if any, industries were allowed to emerge in Kurdistan. By 1980s, Kurdistan and its population paid a very high price for Iraq’s militarisation when Saddam Hussein’s regime used chemical weapons against civilians in towns and villages without any powerful international reaction. Gas attacks against Halabja and the infamous Anfal operations intended to subjugate the entire population of Kurdistan in 1988-1989. The Iraq-Iran war allowed Saddam Hussein to fulfil his grand vision of destroying Kurdistan without any impediment. Ali Hassan al-Majid, the man responsible for the destruction of Kurdistan, said I will kill the Kurds “with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them.”

When Kurdistan’s leaders promoted the idea of federalism in Iraq, from 1992 to 2005, these sufferings were still fresh memories in the minds of every one. In order to prevent this tragic history to be repeated, Kurdistan’s negotiators were determined to build in mechanisms that will not permit few individuals in the capital to monopolise oil revenues. By emphasising revenue-sharing in a just and fair way, they hoped to re-build the country for the benefit of Iraq’s all provinces, regions and peoples.

Translating that dream into a policy issue was, and still is, a huge challenge. However, when the newly appointed federal Prime Minister and the oil Minister came to Erbil in Summer 2006, KRG representatives offered the first draft of an oil and gas law that could take Iraq in a federal direction. It was a genuine attempt by the KRG to take a constructive initiative to translate the intention behind the constitution to a viable, and potentially agreeable, law. Unfortunately, this didn’t lead anywhere. KRG representatives gradually realised that there were no federal thinkers or takers in Baghdad.

A year later, the KRG passed its own oil and gas law, invited companies to bid for oil and gas explorations, building refineries, and eventually building a strategic pipeline to Turkey. This was not an easy journey. Ministers, members of Parliaments, political leaders and commentators attacked KRG’s oil policies as much as they could. They labeled it as illegal, unconstitutional and divisive. American and British officials in Baghdad, Washington and London, as well as political leaders in Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq attacked almost every step taken by the KRG to implement its constitutional rights related to oil and gas in the region. American officials advised oil companies strongly against negotiating any deals with the KRG. Iraq’s Minister of oil black-listed companies active in Kurdistan. Kurdistan’s opposition leaders accused the policy in variety of ways for party political reasons. Most of them expected Iraq to go back to a strong and centralised state. In essence, they used anti-federalist argments, despite the fact that many of them contributed to the federalisation of Iraq.

Ironically, things went in a surprising direction in the summer of 2014. Iraq’s army collapsed in the face of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, now IS, the Islamic State) attacks without resistance. Oil price dropped dramatically. Iraq couldn’t use its strategic pipeline to export oil from Kirkuk fields to Turkey, as it had for decades. When the KRG delegation, under the leadership of the Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, went to Bagdad at the beginning of December this year, unexpected things happened. The much criticised pipeline built by the KRG recently turned out to be a strategic asset, along side the level of oil production the KRG has managed to develop in the past few years. The KRG negotiators managed to agree with the federal government to help Iraq to fulfil its international obligations by supplying 250,000 barrels per day and offer the newly-built Kurdistan pipeline to export 300,000 barrels per day from the Kirkuk fields. In a way, this was a dramatic turning point.

For years, federal officials in Baghdad behaved unconstitutionally by accusing the KRG to undermine the unity of Iraq. This autumn, events proved that the KRG policy was constructive, future-oriented and could serve the whole country. Very few people, if any, could imagine in 2006 that Kurdistan will produce its own share of oil to contribute to the country’s revenue. A couple of years ago, very few, if any, could imagine that the newly-built but much-criticised pipeline will serve Kurdistan and Iraq in a mutual way. Through the recent deals, both the federal government and the KRG have created a ground for future dialogues, constructive solutions and imaginative deals. Kurdistan’s oil and gas pipelines might function as a peace-building initiative through which other issues can be dealt with: peshmerga’s status and payment within a federal arrangement, settlement of the disputed territories, a meaningful power-sharing agreement to include even the Sunnis and a revenue-sharing practice that will save Iraq from further violence and destruction. Years from now we might remember the KRG pipeline as trigger for a new start for Iraq. Here, there seem to be a parallel between the idea of federalism for Iraq in 1992 when the first Kurdistan National Assembly made it conditional to re-join Iraq.