Iraq crisis: Kurds pin hopes on an oil-rich future

Baghdad's turmoil is allowing the country's autonomous north to plan taking formal control of Kirkuk and other disputed areas

Kirkuk, Erbil

Iraqi Kurds have already governed their territory, a land of wheat fields and rugged mountains that extends from Iraq's northern and western border with Turkey to the Iranian border in the east, for more than two decades. They have overseen a construction boom, built an oil industry and maintained security, even as fresh turmoil has racked much of the rest of the country.

Yesterday, as Iraqi forces continued to try to oust insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) out of Tikrit, part of the larger battle against the gains made by Isis in recent weeks, Kurds are also seeking to tighten their grip over the territory.

In the contested oil-rich region of Kirkuk, Iraq's Kurdish minority has been steadily consolidating control for weeks. On the southern edge of the province, in an area once secured by central government forces, Kurdish soldiers are reinforcing a shaky border separating them from their new southern neighbours, the Sunni militants of Isis.

Massoud Barzani, president of the largely autonomous Kurdistan regional government, has repeatedly suggested he will soon initiate a referendum on the region's independence, which would likely pass, local officials and analysts say. For many Kurds, the Iraqi region of Kurdistan could never be complete without Kirkuk. Under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, many Kurds were forced to leave.

Mr Barzani told a closed-door meeting of the Kurdish parliament last week that he would pursue independence only after formalising Kurdish control of Kirkuk and other disputed areas, according to legislators.

A move to annex Kirkuk could ignite fighting with Baghdad, which is intent on holding on to the territory – particularly Kirkuk's resources. Washington has urged the country's factions to work together toward forging a new government that would lead to the country's Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepping aside. But Iraq's parliament has so far failed to reach agreement over the government's top posts.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Maliki reminded Iraqis that his party holds the largest majority in parliament, and that it would not accept "conditions" set by opposition members, despite escalating pressure to step aside. "I will never give up my candidacy for the post of prime minister," he said.

In the Kurdish regions in particular, Iraqis of all ethnicities and religions talk increasingly of the emergence of three states. "The United States has to be realistic," said Najmiddin Karim, the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk. "This thing about 'sovereignty', this thing about the borders of Iraq, Iraq 'unity', I mean this is just an old story."

The Kurds have begun to establish an independent revenue stream to replace the money they have customarily received from Baghdad – about £580m a month – by building their own oil sector. In May, they began exporting through a new pipeline to Turkey, bypassing Baghdad's control – sales that have so far garnered £54m, according to Turkish energy minister Taner Yildiz.

But oil sales need to rise dramatically to replace the money from Baghdad. The enormous oil fields of Kirkuk, newly secured by the Kurds, can currently produce more oil than all the other fields in the Kurdistan region combined.

In the past, the federal government has exported Kirkuk's oil through a pipeline to Turkey, which is now inoperable because it runs through territory controlled by Isis.

The Kurds are building a new pipeline that will link Kirkuk with the Kurdistan region's independent pipeline to Turkey, according to both Kurdish leaders and technical officials from Iraq's federal North Oil Co, which has historically managed Kirkuk's oil. The project is at least three months from completion, North Oil Co officials said.

But getting the pipeline up and running is more about political will than technical capabilities. Kurdish leaders have negotiated with the federal oil ministry over how they might help to export Kirkuk oil, but they have not agreed on terms.

"Nobody wants a war with Baghdad, so this will have to be done carefully," a senior Kurdish official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities.

An independent Kurdistan would have to be effective at managing Kirkuk's ethnically and religiously diverse population – a microcosm of Iraq's larger divisions.

The province's Kurdish governor is widely popular, and Sunni Arabs and Turkmen residents of Kirkuk said in interviews that they were pleased with the new Kurdish hold on the city, citing better security than they had under Mr Maliki.

But some Arabs expressed concern that Kurdish political leaders could monopolise power should Kirkuk become part of a fully independent Kurdish state.

"People are safe but afraid," said Sami Najim, a Sunni Arab grocery store owner. "The only people who have benefited in the past are the Shias and the Kurds."

The Washington Post

ebooksNow available in paperback
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game