Authorities in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan have opposed a plan to export crude oil from the northern fields of Kirkuk via Iran, marking their first escalation of a spat which has started with secessionist calls.
The grandstanding came after Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi traveled to Tehran on Sunday to push ahead with a pipeline project for shipping Iraq’s crude oil to refineries in neighboring Iran.
Officials in the Iraqi province of Kirkuk, which is controlled by Kurdish forces since they used a security vacuum in June 2014 to overtake the city from federal troops, were quoted on Friday as having expressed their opposition to the project.
Kurdish forces “won’t cooperate with the central government to ship its oil to refineries in neighboring Iran as the federal authorities didn’t seek its input,” Bloomberg quoted Ahmed al-Askari, head of the energy committee at the so-called Kirkuk provincial council, as saying.
“Any oil deal, or discussions about the province’s output, without involving the Kirkuk governorate and its provincial council will not be successful,” the office of the self-proclaimed Kirkuk governor said, the financial news provider added.
Authorities in the Iraqi Kurdistan want Kirkuk, which is divided along ethnic lines between Turkmen Kurds and Arabs, to be included in their autonomous protectorate but Baghdad rejects it.
The province is aggressively coveted by Kurdish authorities because it holds more than 9 billion barrels of oil reserves, with a capacity to produce more than 1 million barrels a day.
When Daesh terrorists began overrunning a large swath of northern Iraq amid the flight of federal troops, Peshmarga forces took control of some fields in Kirkuk and the city itself.
The Kurdistan regional government further wants to hold a referendum on independence from Iraq on September, drawing warnings from Iran and Turkey which view the move “dangerous” and destabilizing to an already volatile region.
The crude oil from Kirkuk is transported through a major export pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Iraq exported 677,000 barrels of oil from Kirkuk in June, according to the country’s Oil Ministry.
However, the route has been subject to repeated disruptions this decade as Kurdish authorities have tried to use it as an instrument for point scoring and pressuring Baghdad.
As a solution, Iraq plans to transfer oil to Kermanshah and Tabriz refineries in Iran, diverting it away from the export route via the Kurdish region.
Tehran and Baghdad signed a memorandum of understanding in February to study the construction of the pipeline. Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh said on Sunday that he had reached agreements with his Iraqi counterpart about an international company that would carry out a feasibility study of the project.