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Matter of National Security? The Turkish-Kurdish 'Secret Agreement'

An 18-month-old “secret agreement” between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey goes for 50 years and potentially affects national security and oil exports. Nobody knows what's in it but critics suggest it may…
23.04.2015  |  Sulaymaniyah
Getting closer: On the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Getting closer: On the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

In November 2013 the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and neighbouring Turkey signed what some have since described as a “secret agreement”. In a speech Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, announced that the agreement covered several areas of cooperation and that the duration of the cooperation would be 50 years. However he didn't reveal much, if anything, about what might be in this agreement. And the Turkish side didn't mnetion the agreement at all.

Ever since then questions have been being asked about the agreement: Why won't the Iraqi Kurdish government tell anyone what is in it? Why isn't the agreement helping Iraqi Kurdistan deal with various crises, security related and financial?

“The government signed a 50-year agreement with the Turkish government covering several areas,” Sven Dzia, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Kurdish government, confirmed to NIQASH. But then he refused to go into further details. “The concerned authorities have revealed what is important and what can be revealed. The main objective of the agreement is to strengthen trade relations between the two sides,” he concluded.

Asking around various politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan, it seems that they too know little about the content of the agreement. They say these are only known to a handful of people, including the Turkish President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and then the Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister, Barzani, and the Iraqi Kurdish Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami.

On condition of anonymity one local MP also listed the senior Iraqi Kurdish politicians who didn't know what was in the agreement. These included the region's former and current Deputy Prime Ministers, the Minister of Finance and the members of the region's Oil and Gas Council.

“This is the only agreement that very few people know about and there is no doubt that a big number of officials in the Kurdistan region's government have no information whatsoever on this agreement,” MP Ali Hama Salih, a member of the anti-corruption Change movement and a senior member of the Kurdish Parliament's Energy and Natural Resources committee, told NIQASH. “Among them is the Minister of Finance, Rebaz Mohammad [Hamalan].”

“Our committee asked the executive to provide information about the agreement by way of a formal letter,” says Kurdish MP and economist Izzat Saber, who heads the local Parliament's Committee on Finance and Economics. “But up until now we have had no reply. During a meeting with the Oil and Gas Council we were informed that the agreement was valid for 50 years and it covered the oil and energy sectors as well as several others.”

Saber believes it is very important to make the content of the agreement public because of possible impact on future generations.

Information obtained by NIQASH via enquiries with a former senior official, in office until 2013, indicates that the agreement is composed of 13 points covering three main areas: peaceful relations with Turkey, Turkey's cooperation with Iraqi Kurdistan and oil and energy.

The agreement apparently stipulates that the Iraqi Kurdish government should play a positive role in bringing the Turkish government closer to the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, which has long been in violent conflict with Ankara. On the other side of the coin, Turkey apparently agrees to cooperate with Iraqi Kurdistan in several areas, and especially when the region is in danger. Allegedly there is also a paragraph that says Ankara will support Iraqi Kurdistan in conflicts between Iraqi Kurdistan and the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad.

In terms of energy and resources, the agreement apparently says that Turkey agrees to store Iraqi Kurdistan's oil in the country's Ceyhan port until it can be exported on. In return, Iraqi Kurdistan agrees to supply Turkey with oil at reasonable prices.

And it seems that the part of the supposedly secret agreement that deals with oil and natural resources is the most troublesome. The Iraqi Constitution says that the Kurdish region has the right to build relationships with other countries, especially in commerce and culture and that it doesn’t need prior approval from the federal government to do this.

“Article 121 says that the region has the right to develop cultural, developmental and trade ties with other countries through offices that represent it,” confirms local legal expert, Al-Hakem Sheikh Latif.

However the bit where Iraqi Kurdistan supplies oil to Turkey is different. The semi-autonomous northern region has been fighting with Baghdad for a long time about who owns the oil that is found in the region and whether sales and exports need to be channeled through Baghdad (with a percentage of profits then returned to the Kurdish region) or whether Iraqi Kurdistan can ship oil out by itself.

“There is no explicit mention of oil exports in the Constitution,” Latif says. “It all depends on how the corresponding legislation is interpreted. And in this case Baghdad and Erbil interpret it differently.”

And Iraqi Kurdish government spokesperson, Dzia, insists that the region has not violated either the Iraqi Constitution with it's oil exports, nor any Iraqi laws.

In fact, the agreement between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan apparently came about as a result of this ongoing fight, at at stage when Prime Minister Barzani had felt he was unable to come to any kind of agreement on the issue with former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The al-Maliki administration was firmly opposed to the agreement and the independent sale of oil. However as yet, the new administration headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has remained silent on the agreement. Instead the two sides – Baghdad and Erbil – seem to have been trying to work toward some kind of reconciliation.

“Up until now, we haven't asked the region's government to give us information on its agreement with Turkey,” says MP Areez Abdullah, who chairs the Oil and Gas Committee in the federal Parliament in Baghdad. But, he adds, when it becomes necessary, they will ask for details.

Local writer and analyst of Turkish affairs, Nayaz Hamid, believes that the agreement between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey should be much more transparent. It could be seen as a matter of national security, he notes, and Iraqi Kurdistan is not actually a nation; it is a region of Iraq.

“The signing of such an agreement could easily raise doubts because it could fall within the framework of national security,” Hamid points out. “It is an agreement that should be approved by two countries, two members of the United Nations, because that oil will eventually reach world markets and will affect the interests of many other sovereign states. That's why this non-transparent agreement may well not have a real future.”

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