Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A "package deal" re Kirkuk and oil-policy?

Nechirvan Barzani, who is Prime Minister of the Kurdistan regional government (and a nephew of Masoud Barzani who is President of the regional government) made a number of potentially significant remarks during a visit to the UAE yesterday that have been prominently noted by Azzaman and AlHayat, both of which pointed out important policy implications, but the remarks have been noted only in a routine way in English: (1) He said the Kurdish regional government is not necessarily going to insist on the application of the provisions of Section 140 of the Iraqi constitution for the normalization of Kirkuk, but would consider instead a negotiated power-sharing agreement. This is apparently the first time any Kurdish authority has indicated a willingness to abandon the insistence on Section 140 (an insistence that has had an aggressive tone, since it includes the idea of a referendum with a winner-take-all result). (2) He said within the next two weeks a Kurdish delegation will travel to Baghdad to negotiate a global oil and gas agreement with the central government. And (3) he signed a $4.5 billion agreement with a Dubai real estate development company for a large tourism and mixed-use development project in the Irbil area.

Reuters covered the statement about flexibility on Kirkuk with a short item that didn't get prominent play elsewhere in the corporate media. AP, for its part, reported the oil-sector comments only insofar as Barzani called for greatly increased national oil-production, apparently not knowing what if anything to make of the remarks on renewed political negotiations with Baghdad.

It seems possible, however, that the combination of remarks on Kirkuk and on the political oil-sector talks reflects something suggested by Joost Hilterman in a recent interview with the Turkish news-site "Today's Zaman". In an interview published a little over a week ago, Monday May 26, Hilterman said:
“In a potential package deal, the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] in Iraq would gain the rights to develop its own oil fields. In exchange they would not incorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdistan region. And it may become a stand-alone region with a power sharing arrangement,” he elaborated.

As part of that deal, he said, the Iraqi Kurdish administration would restrain the PKK’s freedom to maneuver: “If Turkey then also agrees to an amnesty for lower and mid-level officials [of the PKK] and lets refugees from the Makhmour camp return safely to Turkey, the KRG in exchange will absorb the senior levels of the PKK -- they will be disarmed, of course, and no longer politically active.”
Hilterman is based in Turkey and follows Kurdish affairs closely. So I think the combination of Barzani's remarks indicating flexibility on Kirkuk, with an announcement about renewed negotiations for an oil and gas law, coming just a week after these suggestions by Hilterman about a possible "package deal", are worth paying attention to.

How this might or might not relate to the embarrassing "Lion's Roar" campaign, the apparent standoff relating to Peshmerga strength in Mosul, the reported suspension of the Ninawa governor and the flight of his deputy to Irbil, I do not know.


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