— Iraq is warning Turkey not to follow through on an oil deal with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is expected to start exporting oil to Turkey as early as next month.
Baghdad officials have voiced strong opposition to any energy deals between Ankara and the KRG, insisting that only they have authority to make energy deals, a claim disputed by both Ankara and the KRG.
According to Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar Carnegie Institute in Brussels, energy cooperation between Ankara and the KRG is deepening, and shipments could start soon.
"There has been, now and even very recently, a set of ambitious agreements between Ankara and the KRG regarding the leveraging of these oil and gas resources," he said.
Ankara and the KRG have, for several years, been negotiating a comprehensive energy deal, involving energy purchases, construction of pipelines, and resource exploration. Ankara sees the neighboring region's oil and gas wealth as a solution to its growing energy needs.
Turkey has little energy reserves of its own and has been seeking to diversify its dependence on Russia and Iran.
According to Semih Idiz, diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf
and the Al Monitor
website, concern over Turkish cooperation with the KRG is not confined only to Baghdad.
"One of the accusations leveled at Turkey because of its ties with the Kurds, both by Baghdad and Washington, [is that] it's actually in a divisive mode as far of the territorial integrity of Iraq is concerned," he said. "So I think Baghdad will be looking for steps from Turkey that reinforce that territorial integrity and not weaken it and not put it in question."
In a bid to alleviate those tensions, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who met Wednesday with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to visit Baghdad.
Efforts to resolve tentions
Turkey's energy cooperation with the KRG has been a key factor behind years of tensions with Baghdad, but in the last few weeks there have been intense efforts to repair relations. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu says those efforts have created a better environment to resolve differences.
"Among friends — neighbors among friends — there might be disagreements, but the important thing is to be able to have mature and meaningful dialogue, and I think that is what we have now the Iraqi government," he said. "Sometimes we agree to disagree, but we try to engage in a dialogue as much as possible."
Some energy experts say the KRG could eventually, with Turkish support, become a major world energy exporter. Such potential would not only play a crucial role in helping to meet Turkey’s energy needs but would also contribute to making it an important international energy hub, a strategic goal of Ankara.
Analyst Ulgen says with or without Baghdad’s consent, cooperation between Ankara and the KRG will continue to grow.
"Turkey's position is that Baghdad cannot continue to obstruct the deal between Turkey and the KRG. But it will be much easier and less problematic and much more predictable if Baghdad is also on board," he said. "But [Turkey] does not want to give the right of veto overall to Baghdad, because this is quite an important issue for Turkey to have this energy relationship in place."
KRG Prime Minister Barzani said this week the first oil shipments to Turkey could start by the end of the year.
Observers warn that gives little time to resolve the current impasse.