Sunni and Shi'ite Arab leaders in Baghdad this
week questioned the authority of the Kurdistan
Regional Government after it began drilling for oil
in the Dahuk Governorate. Several Arab leaders in
Baghdad claimed that Kurdistan did not have the
authority constitutionally to undertake a venture,
particularly without the approval of the central
government. Kurdish authorities however, maintained
that it is their right to develop and control oil
resources in their region.
The Kurdistan Regional Government and the Norwegian
oil company DNO broke ground on an oil-prospecting
venture in the village of Tawuke, located in the
Dahuk Governorate on 29 November, RFE/RL's Radio
Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Dahuk Governor Tamir
Ramadan told RFI in a interview at the
ground-breaking ceremony in Tawuke that the Iraqi
Oil Ministry in Baghdad was well aware of the
project. "As [Kurdistan's] Prime Minister Nechirvan
Barzani has noted, the Oil Ministry has helped and
expended great effort [on the project] so it was a
party in this project," he told RFI.
The new Iraqi Constitution ratified on 15 November
is murky on the issue, and arguably does not ban
regional governments from drilling for oil in their
territories. The issue, if pursued by Shi'ite and
Sunni Arabs, could prove to be the Iraqi
government's first constitutional dilemma.
Article 108 states, "Oil and gas are the ownership
of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and
Article 109 notes: " First: The federal government
with the producing governorates and regional
governments shall undertake the management of oil
and gas extracted from current fields [emphasis
added] provided that it distributes oil and gas
revenues in a fair manner in proportion to the
population distribution in all parts of the country
with a set allotment for a set time for the damaged
regions that were unjustly deprived by the former
regime and the regions that were damaged later on,
and in a way that assures balanced development in
different areas of the country, and this will be
regulated by law.
"Second: The federal government with the producing
regional and governorate governments shall together
formulate the necessary strategic policies to
develop the oil and gas wealth in a way that
achieves the highest benefit to the Iraqi people
using the most advanced techniques of the market
principles and encourages investment."
Former Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban told RFI in a
30 November interview in Baghdad: "Any future [oil]
research or development project on oil fields in
Iraq that would be undertaken in cooperation with
foreign companies must be approved by the future
[Iraqi parliament's] Council of Representatives....
Another thing is that, according to the current law,
oil research and development projects [are the sole
responsibility of] the Oil Ministry and any change
in [the oil] sector that is performed in cooperation
with oil companies -- be they Arab or foreign,
international or regional -- must also be a subject
of legal regulation."
Meanwhile, Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, told reporters in Baghdad that
the central government was never formally informed
of the deal and would refer the matter to its legal
adviser, ft.com reported on 2 December.
The issue could be further complicated after
Kurdistan President Mas'ud Barzani announced in a 1
December speech in Salah Al-Din that the highly
contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk would join the
Kurdistan region in 2007, Kurdish and Turkish media
reported on 2 December. The Kirkuk Governorate has
some 10 billion barrels of proven reserves
remaining. Any oil revenues from those reserves,
according to the constitution, would fall under the
control of the central government.
Turkoman and Arab residents of Kirkuk claim the two
main Kurdish parties -- Barzani's Kurdistan
Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani --
have pursued a campaign to make Kurds a majority in
Kirkuk by building settlements for Kurds displaced
from the city under the Hussein regime.
Arabs and Turkomans claim the parties have relocated
some 350,000 Kurds to Kirkuk since the fall of the
Hussein regime, "The Washington Post" reported on 30
October. In 2007, Kirkuk residents will vote on the
status of the city, and whether it should be
incorporated into the Kurdistan region,
turkishdailynews.com reported on 2 December.
The issue of Kirkuk has already provoked an
outspoken response from Turkey, a fervent supporter
of Iraq's Turkoman population, largely concerning
the situation in and around Kirkuk.
Observers had also speculated that the Kurdistan-DNO
agreement might spark negative reactions from
Turkey, Iran, and Syria, which all have large
Kurdish populations, arguing that Kurdish
government's control over the oil fields might
bolster local calls to secede and establish an
independent Kurdish state, which could in turn spark
unrest among Kurdish populations in neighboring
states. However, there has thus far been little
reaction on the Dahuk project from neighboring
RFI asked Dahuk Governor Ramadan if he anticipated
any future regional fallout from the Dahuk drilling.
"The opposite is true. I think that it will have a
positive impact...I do not think there will be any
negative impact on the neighboring countries," he
said. "Some companies from neighboring countries may
benefit from these important projects that will be
accompanied by tourism [development] projects and
other investment projects."
Turkish investors have a 15 percent stake in an oil
venture in another Iraqi town near Koi Sinjak (Taq
Taq wells 1 and 2) between the Kurdistan-based Eagle
Group and a subsidiary of the Canadian-based
Heritage Oil Corporation (each own a 42.5 percent
stake in their new company, Heritage Erbil Oil).
Heritage Oil is also involved in talks with the
central government in Baghdad to develop other