Gas export is a new project of the Kurdistan Regional Government and has been seriously discussed in recent months. It has provoked widespread reactions from Kurdistan, Iraq and the region. In an interview with Kurdpress News Agency, Kamal Rauf, Sharpress Media Institute Director and one of the leading analysts on political issues in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, discusses the various dimensions of this project.
What is your assessment of the efforts of the Kurdistan Region to export gas to world markets at this time?
The Kurdistan Region efforts to improve its financial resources and increase its income are logical, this is an acceptable and undeniable right, but what the KDP is pursuing on the issue of gas and intends to decide on the future of gas alone is not in the interests of the Kurdistan Region and will not lead to the success of this project. Gas is a national resource in the Kurdistan region and agreement and consensus on it is an undeniable necessity. If a decision is to be made in this area, it must be made by the parliament and all those in the government must decide on it.
What can be seen now is that the KDP sees this project (gas export) as its monopoly project, although it is being pursued in the name of the KRG and the Prime Minister himself, but the other parties have not participated. And the Iraqi central government is not involved in this project. The position of the government in Baghdad and the recent ruling of the Federal Court (declaring the Kurdistan Region Oil and Gas Law illegal) would cause serious and many problems for the Kurdistan Region in implementing its gas export project.
Considering the current approach and policy of the Kurdistan Region and the ruling of the Iraqi Federal Court in declaring the export of oil and gas of the region as illegal, how much is an Erbil-Baghdad agreement possible over these matters?
What is clear is that the KDP is unwilling to deliver oil to Iraq. Proposals by the KRG in the recent meeting between the delegation of the Ministry of Oil and the KRG to establish a new company in the Kurdistan Region to manage its oil field instead of SOMO and a headquarters in the region and the return of all revenues to the treasury of the central government and the region's power in having a veto was all rejected by the Iraqi government.
The other part is that the KDP is not willing to deal with Baghdad, because if it was ready for such a big project, it would have consulted with Baghdad, or that at the present time that the federal court has issued the rule and their relations are unfriendly, the issue of gas exports should not have been raised.
Another issue is that we are involved in the problem of lack of gas in the Kurdistan region. If the KRG is unable to solve the gas and energy problem at home, and its rates are rising day by day, and on the other hand it is unable to pay its monthly salaries, how can it become a replacement for a big country like Russia in the global gas market? Or how can it be sure that this gas reaches Europe through the Turkish canal? In my opinion, this is a game, and we Kurds, who have this big card, will burn it and lose it. At the same time, the project is handing over this large card to an outside party, which may be due to the fact that it will generate more revenue and money in the absence of transparency. This project can be implemented transparently for the citizens of the Kurdistan Region, not the vague and non-transparent approach that we are witnessing now.
You mentioned Russia, a country that is in the midst of a fierce energy dispute with Europe over its war on Ukraine and intends to use this card for its political purposes. The question is whether the Kurdistan region is able to enter into the equation in terms of the volume and size of the deal? Meanwhile in a recent meeting with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, The Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, presented his project for exporting gas to Europe, and was welcomed by Johnson. Can the Kurdistan Region send gas to Europe and would Erbil be considered as one of the implementers of this project?
European countries and any other country that consumes and needs gas, welcome its extraction wherever it is, so that their needs are met and Europeans reduce their dependence on Russian gas from any other country. They welcome it, and the reason for this is the problem that Moscow has created for them as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war. But what we are talking about is the Kurdistan Region is not a country, we are an official political entity that has been recognized, but this federal entity has faced a serious problem in the field of energy (oil and gas). The central government of Iraq is able to stop all decisions and commercial projects of the Kurdistan Region in the field of oil and gas.
If the fate of the Kurdistan Region gas trade is like its oil (projets), that the regional government is not able to pay the monthly salaries of its employees without the payment of 200 billion dinars from Baghdad, everything is clear and the fate of this project is also known. How can you compete with a country like Russia if you are unable to pay the monthly salaries of your employees?
I emphasize that the Kurdistan Region does not need such an effort. The Kurdistan Region needs to improve its relations with countries in the region, including Iran and Turkey, and maintain a balance in these ties. We must have deep and good relations with Iraq, which is the center of decisions related to the Kurdistan Region; in order to ensure the welfare and security of the Kurdish citizens.
A large part of the geography of the Kurdistan Region and about 49 to 50 percent is controlled by the central government of Iraq. Instead of looking to sell oil and focus on it, we need to annex this geography to the Kurdistan Region through legal channels and at least realize their national and administrative rights. At the same time, we have already created such a messy administration in the Kurdistan region that the employees are looking for their monthly salaries to be paid by the Iraqi government. The economic situation in the Kurdistan region is deplorable, unhealthy and critical. There is a crisis of trust between the citizens and the government of the Kurdistan Region, and the people have distanced themselves from the government, and this has led to a lack of governance stability in the Kurdistan Region.
I state that the government cannot be maintained with the support of a foreign country, and that all the wealth and prosperity of this land should not be given to another country in order to maintain its (Kurdistan Region) governance. Ruling is not done this way, and this is a great defeat and failure, and history will not forgive those who squander the wealth of this land with a 50-year agreement with Turkey, an agreement with a country that did not support the Kurdistan Region in its war with the ISIS and even supported this terrorist group.
The question from the KRG is where do they export the gas to? Do they intend to export gas through Turkey? The founders of this project say that they are heating the houses of Turkish people with the gas from the Kurdistan Region, while the houses of the citizens of the Kurdistan Region are cold. This is a great oppression and injustice against the people of the Kurdistan Region. I do not believe that the people of the Kurdistan Region will accept this situation any more.
You mentioned that the Kurdistan Region gas export project is more of a party project (KDP) than a government project. The issue is the existence of the majority of Kurdistan Region gas resources in areas controlled and managed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Will the PUK join the project, or is there a new dispute between the two parties over the project?
I emphasize that this issue that you raised is serious. We are already witnessing reports in the media that the PUK is opposed to this project in its current form. Both Qubad Talabani, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region and a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan senior official, and the PUK as a whole are dissatisfied with such an approach, especially since a large part of the Kurdistan Region's gas resources are in areas controlled by the PUK.
What is clear is the lack of an agreement on the approach of the KDP and the Prime Minister. Instead of developing the Kurdistan region, this project will probably lead to the division of the Kurdistan region and possibly a war.
Foreign parties will be involved in this case and dispute. For example, a country like Russia will not sit idle in the global energy market in the face of the emergence of alternatives in the market.
I believe that this is the issue for the Islamic Republic of Iran and Baghdad and the Iraqi parties and movements. This project is only in the interests of Turkey, the KDP and the Iraqi Sunnis.
Part of this conflict is in the interests of companies, not in financial interests and the return of revenues to the Kurdistan Region. In the oil case, we see oil sale, but a large part of the revenues go to the pockets of party companies for transferring, protection and etc., and their revenues and profits are higher than the government.
Reporter's code: 50101