Kurdistan Region: trade with Ankara & Politics with Baghdad

May 8, 2013

Judging from its agenda, an important oil and gas conference at month’s end in Erbil will focus on the new relationship between Turkey and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

It seems that the aim of the conference is to lay the groundwork for the Kurdistan Region’s emergence as an energy exporter, as it looks to Turkey as both a buyer and entrepot for its oil and gas exports.

The website of the conference (www.makingconnectionserbil.com), which is for the private sector, says that the event will focus on the relationship between Turkey and the KRG, “in bringing the latter’s natural resources to the world.”

But turning toward Turkey, and away from Baghdad, may not be in the best interests of the Kurdistan Region.

The event could have provoked Baghdad, had it not signed an agreement with the KRG last week, agreeing to resolve some of the most pressing issues between the central government and autonomous northern enclave.

In light of the recent rapprochement with Baghdad and the positive international reactions that followed, the Kurdistan Region should be aware that by maintaining a good relationship with Baghdad it carries more weight externally.

In the past many of us used to say that if things do not work with Baghdad, the Kurds should turn to Ankara — or elsewhere. This may have been true in the past, but today the Kurds have a different status in the Middle East and in Iraq.

While Turkey may be a good business partner for the KRG, it is still far from fit to accept the Kurds as political partners.

With Baghdad, the Kurds have a constitution that recognizes their existence and rights in every aspect of life; the conflict with Baghdad is over implementation.

On the other hand, despite ongoing efforts to reach peace with its own Kurds, Turkey still has some way to go before granting equal status to the Kurds.

While Baghdad speaks of its “Kurdish partner,” Ankara talks about “the Kurdish problem.”

In fact, for as long as the Kurdish issue is not settled, Turkey will have several Kurdish “problems.” It will face a Kurdish problem internally, a Kurdish problem in Syria and eventually a Kurdish problem in Iraq.

The Erbil conference at the end of the month may conclude that Turkey and the KRG are viable business partners. But the KRG should be aware that Baghdad is still its political partner. It should also be aware that it cannot continue this status forever.

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