Iraqi Kurds give Baghdad a last chance

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 The crisis between Arbil and Baghdad will not be solved unless the central government implements the charter, a Kurdish official says, warning that al-Maliki has one last chance until the end of 2012

 The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has given Baghdad one “last chance” until the end of the year to implement the requirements of their Constitution, or they will respond with decisions of their own, a senior Kurdish official has said.

“The political crisis will end if Shiites in Baghdad implement the Constitution before the end of year. If they don’t, we will make our own decision,” KRG Presidency spokesman Omad Sabah told Anatolia news agency, adding that they had formed a delegation that has been sent to Baghdad. Tension between the central government and Arbil has grown recently. Baghdad has a long-standing disagreement with the KRG over control of oil and territory along their internal border. Baghdad maintains that it alone has the right to export Iraqi crude oil, but the KRG has moved ahead by signing exploration deals with major oil companies such as Exxon and Chevron, which Baghdad has rejected as illegal.

The delegation, headed by former premier of the Kurdish administration Barham Salih, will meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Shiite leaders to issue a letter citing the demands of Kurds, said Sabah.

‘Monopolistic’ attitude

“We are waiting for a solution in the disputed regions. It is written in the Constitution that peshmarga [Kurdish soldiers] must constitute 20 percent of the army, but in fact it is only eight percent now. We want Baghdad to comply with the charter. The protection of the federal structure and democracy are the most important issues for us,” Sabah said. Criticizing al-Maliki’s “monopolistic” attitude, he added that the prime minister also defied the Constitution in his method of appointing generals. “We want them to understand our letter. If they don’t comply with the agreements we have our own resolutions,” he said, without specifying any particular actions.

Reuters has reported that the KRG has begun selling its oil on the international market. The move is likely to further enrage the Baghdad government, which is still locked in a battle with Exxon Mobil over its independent oil exploration deal with the administration last year in six Kurdish blocs. By involving two of the world’s largest trading houses, Trafigura and Vitol, Iraqi Kurdistan has made it difficult for Baghdad to retaliate, as it depends on those firms for a portion of its refined oil imports such as gasoline and diesel. If Baghdad were to decide to shop elsewhere, it could face paying much higher prices for its fuel.

Trafigura claimed the first cargo of Kurdish light oil available for delivery in October, via the intermediary Powertrans. The oil was shipped across the country from a Kurdish field to Turkey, where it was loaded at the start of the month. Vitol was quick to follow, becoming the second major oil firm to buy Kurdish oil marketed independent of Baghdad, obtaining a second 12,000 tons of condensed cargo for loading at the end of the month. At around $890 a ton, each shipment is worth over $10 million.

Iraqi officials say any independent deals with Kurdistan are illegal and that trading Kurdish oil and gas products without the central government’s consent amounts to smuggling.

 

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