Iraqi Kurds Begin Exporting Oil Through Turkey

Kurdish president Massud Barzani, right, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani open a ceremonial valve during an event to celebrate the start of oil exports from the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, Monday, June 1, 2009.

Kurdish president Massud Barzani, right, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani open a ceremonial valve during an event to celebrate the start of oil exports from Kurdistan to Turkey.

IRBIL, Kurdistan (Combined Sources) — Iraqi Kurdistan began pumping oil on Monday from Kurdish-controlled oil fields in northern Iraq through a pipeline to neighboring Turkey where it will be exported to overseas markets.

Workers turned on the pumps at northern Iraq’s Taq Taq oil field on Monday, sending oil flowing via pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Meditteranean Sea. The oil is being exported from the Taq Taq field in the province of Irbil. It is the first time Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region has officially exported oil out of the country.

“It is a historic date, a giant step,” Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, said at an opening ceremony.

The cooperation of neighboring Turkey has been critical for the export deal to go through. In the past, the Turkish government has vehemently opposed any move by the Iraqi Kurds to develop oil resources, because of Turkish fears that the oil revenues would allow the Kurds to establish an independent state.

In recent months, relations have improved dramatically between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds. “Turkey is our economic partner. We are in a new era of friendship and cooperation, on the right path,” Ashti Hawrami, minister for natural resources in the Kurdish administration of northern Iraq said.

“We are proud of this success, and this achievement will serve the interests of all Iraqis, especially the Kurds.”

Nearly 100,000 barrels of oil were sent from the Taq Taq and Tawke oil fields to the national pipeline that carries it to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Previously, oil pumped in the region was used for domestic consumption.

About 40,000 barrels per day will initially be sent from Taq Taq, which is in a remote area of Irbil, with another 60,000 barrels a day from the Tawke field in nearby Dahuk province.

The two fields are expected to reach a total capacity of 250,000 barrels per day within a year and 1 million barrels per day in the coming two to three years, said Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the region’s Natural Resources Ministry.

Iraq currently produces about 2.4 million barrels of oil per day and exports about 1.9 million — most from ports in the Shiite south.

The Kurdish exports represent a breakthrough after months of bitter disputes between the Kurds and the Arab-dominated central government over the country’s oil riches.

The two sides had been at loggerheads over nearly two dozen deals signed by the Kurds after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and foreign companies.

The Baghdad government maintained those deals were illegal since it had not approved them. The Oil Ministry threatened to blacklist the international companies involved.

But facing a budget crisis due to falling oil prices, the central government earlier this month approved the Kurdish plans to export crude. Oil prices pushed to nearly $68 a barrel on Monday but remained well below last summer’s high of $150.

According to the agreement, revenues will be deposited in a federal account. The Kurds will receive 17 percent, the share allotted to them in the federal budget.

Kurdish officials and their foreign partners are now looking at the possibility of exporting natural gas from Iraqi Kurdistan, through Turkey, to gas-hungry markets in Europe.

Officials in Iraq’s Oil Ministry, however, say such a deal would require permission from the Iraqi central government.

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