01/10/2013, 00.00
IRAQ
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Kurdistan sells oil directly, challenging Baghdad

The amount sold is minimal but highly symbolic. The first shipment went by road to bypass the Baghdad-controlled Iraq-Turkey pipeline. Economists warn that the step signals the region's growing frustration with the central government. Political uncertainties are making matters worse.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Kurdistan has begun to export crude oil directly to world markets through Turkey, posing the biggest challenge yet to Baghdad's claim to full control over Iraqi oil. For local economists, the move is further evidence of growing frustration in the Kurdish region over its relationship with Baghdad, which is driving it to seek greater economic independence.

Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, recently spoke to AsiaNews about the tensions generated by the struggle to control the oil fields of Kurdistan. In view of the situation, he appealed to the parties to engage in "peace and dialogue".

Iraqi officials in Baghdad said the trade of Kurdish oil, which they view as illegal, would make it more difficult to reach a deal on payments to oil companies operating in the northern region, which the central government has delayed.

The export of crude, in addition to small volumes of niche condensate, demonstrates the autonomous region's growing frustration with Baghdad as it moves towards ever greater economic independence, industry sources said.

The first crude was delivered by lorry to the Turkish port of Mersin on the Mediterranean.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) "gave us permission to start crude exports from the Taq Taq oilfield," Genel Energy President Mehmet Sepil said on Monday.

The KRG halted exports through the Baghdad-controlled Iraq-Turkey pipeline last month due to the renewed payment dispute.

And a KRG source said the crude trade through Turkey was likely to keep going because Baghdad is not paying as agreed.

In recent months, because of the tensions between the two levels of government, Iraq's oil and gas auction largely failed after Baghdad excluded contentious Kurdish area fields from the bidding process.

For experts, the situation is likely to get worse over next few weeks because of the country's political situation, preventing any further talks over the matter.

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