Just five years ago, 100,000 Turkish troops were poised on the border with the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Today 200,000 Turkish workers live there as employees of hundreds of Turkish companies that are taking advantage of its booming economy.
Last week, the Kurdistan region’s President Barzani made an historic trip to the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey for a joint appearance with Turkish prime minister Erdogan. A once banned Kurdish singer provided the music as Kurdish and Turkish flags fluttered together.
Very soon, oil will flow from the Kurdistan region by pipeline into Turkey, further boosting Iraqi prosperity and supplying Turkey with much needed energy resources. The Taq Taq field in Iraqi Kurdistan, which I visited with a cross-party group of MPs last week, has the capacity to provide much of Turkey’s daily energy needs and is operated by an Anglo-Turkish company, Genel Energy.
These warmer links between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, where most Kurds live, can also bolster the slow peace process between the Turkish government and Abdullah Ocalan’s PKK, which is on ceasefire.
Commerce is overcoming ancient enmities and tensions. Policy makers should catch up with the implications of the historic rapprochement between the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Turkey – a rare bright spot in the Middle East.
However, there is many a slip twixt cup and lip. Some in Baghdad have long been suspicious of and obstructive towards the successes of the Kurdistan region, although its leaders decided when Iraq was liberated to remain in Iraq – a tough call given the genocidal campaign waged against them from Baghdad, chiefly by Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders have done much to consolidate the country as a whole and have brokered deals that have given Baghdad what stability it has. But successive deals have been dishonoured by Baghdad.
Pathways to solve the issue of the status of disputed territories such as Kirkuk, which was forcibly Arabised in the 1960s, have been kicked into the long grass. The Kurds are entitled to 17 per cent of all Iraqi revenues but generally receive about 10 per cent and not reliably and don’t benefit proportionately from pan-Iraq programmes.
Some in Baghdad describe the export of oil on Kurdish territory as smuggling and Baghdad may yet seek to block exports to Turkey. The Kurds are adamant that all they do is within the law, as laid down in the 2005 constitution endorsed overwhelmingly by the Iraqi people. The many major international companies would not be in Kurdistan if they thought their contracts were illegal.
In any case, the oil and gas remains the property of the Iraqi people, however it is exported, and Baghdad will get its fair share. The country as a whole can benefit from Kurdish dynamism.
Some in Baghdad claim that economic independence will lead to the Kurds declaring UDI. This is difficult for what would be a landlocked country and its neighbours probably wouldn’t back it. Yet, bureaucratic obstruction of Kurdish growth could make this fear a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best way to keep the Kurds is to acknowledge their rights and allow them to succeed.
Nothing much will change before the scheduled parliamentary elections across Iraq in April 2014. But once they are concluded, friends of Iraq should support full implementation of federalism that can assist the Kurds as they make further historic change for the benefit of themselves, Iraq and the wider Middle East.
Gary Kent is director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq, which he has visited three times this year. He writes in a personal capacity.
Photo: Gary Kent
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