The vast energy assets of my country, Iraq, were long abused to fund regional conflicts and instruments of internal repression. No one knows that better than the Kurds, who were the target of a brutal campaign of genocide that culminated in the chemical bombardment of Halabja in the late 1980s. Today, thanks to the American actions in liberating Iraq, our oil and gas resources can become a source of stability for us, and provide dependable security of supply to the global energy market.
The question now is how Iraq recovers and takes its place in the modern world. In achieving this, we value the support of our many friends, especially in the U.S. We believe the energy interests of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the federal government of Iraq and the U.S. are the same; the priority is to increase production across Iraq and to maximize exports. The KRG’s common-sense approach is to help stabilize oil markets through increased production at a moment of significant international tension.
The KRG has built a new energy sector from scratch in just five years with help from American and European companies, as well as others. The federal constitution makes clear the KRG’s right to manage the resources. The export and marketing of Iraq’s energy is not the monopoly of any single entity, provided revenues are shared fairly among the Iraqi people. This year, the KRG could export at least 250,000 barrels of oil per day, which would raise more than $8 billion for Iraq’s treasury. We are on track to turn this into one million barrels per day by 2015 and two million barrels per day by 2019 with new discoveries.
Thanks to our prudent management of natural resources, our region enjoys near round-the-clock electricity. We are also providing power to hard-pressed neighboring provinces in the north of Iraq such as Kirkuk and Nineveh, helping to underpin their economic revival.
However, some are unjustifiably concerned that when the Kurds ask for their fair share and their rights that they seek independence. We wish to remain part of a democratic and federal Iraq, but given the country’s troubled history of authoritarian rule, we believe a decentralized oil policy and the sharing of power and wealth is essential to Iraq’s unity. The tragic lessons of the past teach us that Iraq cannot be governed by force, only through cooperation and consensus. Economic growth undermines geopolitical extremism and conflict.
We need to get oil from the Kurdistan region — and more widely from northern Iraq — to market. By 2019, over three million barrels per day of oil could flow through Iraq’s northern energy corridor to Turkey and the international market. Export infrastructure must be built, but this requires tackling bottlenecks through additional feeder and export pipelines.
The KRG’s relationship with America’s NATO ally Turkey over energy should not be a concern to our U.S. partners. Iraq’s unity and upholding the federal constitution are central to all discussions with Turkey, which will not encourage separatism as it seeks to negotiate a new status for the Kurds in its own country. We are sure that achieving lasting stability in Iraq is also an approach shared by Ankara.
Those who unjustifiably suspect our motives perhaps forget that Iraq’s unity is already at risk because of the non-adherence to the constitution by the current federal administration in Baghdad. The KRG believes that Washington’s approach to Iraq’s energy challenge can help Iraq shepherd through a new deal on energy that will benefit all its people in accordance with the constitution and advance stability and economic wellbeing in the wider region.
The KRG is entitled to and can make the oil and gas exports happen, and prefers to do this with Baghdad. But sadly, those in charge there refuse to honor agreements and negotiate based on the constitution.
In this light, the KRG seeks constructive dialogue with Baghdad to resolve all outstanding oil and gas issues based on the federal constitution as the only viable foundation for Iraq’s unity.
Dr. Ashti Hawrami is Minister of Natural Resources for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq.