09/01/2010, 00.00
IRAQ

Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad, this time over gas

The authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan defend the agreement with Germany's RWE to transport its gas to Europe through Nabucco, considered illegal by the central government. The political stalemate continues as the of U.S. withdrawal officially ends from today “Iraq is sovereign and independent", according to Prime Minister al-Maliki.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - A new blow to Baghdad from the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan: its agreement with Germany's RWE to develop gas fields and the subsequent transport of the blue gold from Iraq to Europe through Nabucco. On August 27 the Kurdish authorities have announced an agreement with the second largest utility company in Germany, signed on their own without central government approval. And now the controversy has exploded.

Under the agreement, RWE will provide expertise for the development of internal reserves and infrastructure to transport gas for export, using the Nabucco pipeline as a westward route for Kurdish gas. According to the Kurdish Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Horami, 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year could fuel Kurdish-Iraqi Nabucco. This aims to transport gas from the Caspian region to Europe to lessen the Old Continent’s energy dependence on Russia.

As expected, last August 29, Baghdad branded the Erbil initiative as illegal, which for its part, yesterday responded that it was perfectly a sound deal. "We will continue to successfully develop our oil and gas reserves in line with the Constitution, which was accepted by the majority of Iraqis," said Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of Foreign Relations of the Kurdish government. The two different positions on the question of the country’s energy resources are destined to remain it seems. Baghdad maintains that exploration, drilling, refining and exports, throughout the national territory, are activities that fall under its jurisdiction. Erbil disagrees: it speaks of its right to manage the assets individually guaranteed by the Constitution of Iraq, which is not very clear in this regard. Kurdistan has developed several such deposits, signing agreements with some twenty foreign companies, which the central government has declared illegal for years.

Political stalemate continues

"We will not wait for the instructions of an unsuccessful ministry like the Iraqi ministry of oil," said Bakir. And the political deadlock that still reigns in the country five months after the elections on March 7, contributes only to reignite these positions.

The problem that still remains to be solved is the naming of the prime minister. Iraqiya - the nationalist alliance led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, that won the elections by a narrow majority - accuses the National Alliance - the Shiite coalition that has reunited led by current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki – of blocking all possible solutions. For weeks, the Shiite bloc has been arguing over a candidate for prime minister: al-Maliki wants a second term at all costs, but his Shiite partners do not. And no one will give up. According to Iraqiya, this is just a game to take time and block the formation of a government by Allawi's secular list.

"Today Iraq is an independent"

The hope of finding a solution without the aid of heavy-handed neighbours like Iran and Syria, appears increasingly distant after the American withdrawal from Iraq. U.S. President Barack Obama tonight will mark the symbolic date of the end of combat operations after seven years since the invasion of the country. Speaking from the Oval Office, he will address the Americans in a nationally televised speech at 8pm (local time). The number of American troops still in Iraq is less than 50 thousand units. Their mission will now be to advise and support the Iraqi army. For many analysts the void left by the U.S. will soon be filled by neighbouring Iran and Syria, giving way to scenarios of civil war. But this does not seem to worry the leaders of the country. For al-Maliki "Iraq is now sovereign and independent." (LYR)

 

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