Kirkuk oil has become Iran’s first gain in its intervention against the independence of the Kurdistan region, as Iranian refineries are expected to receive, within days, shipments of crude oil from fields, the control of which is disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, Asharq al Awsat reports.
Iran is locked in a proxy war with its regional rival and U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia. As well as Iraq, it has been extending its influence in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, raising increasing concerns in Washington and Riyadh.
For the first time since the referendum on the independence of Kurdistan on September 25,Iraq has agreed to divert crude from Kirkuk province, which it retook from the Kurds, to Iran, where it will supply a refinery in the city of Kermanshah. Reuters quoted Iraqi officials and trade sources as saying that under the new arrangement, the first oil will be trucked across the border in the coming days, and Iran will initially receive 15,000 barrels per day worth nearly $1 million, rising gradually to 60,000 bpd.
Baghdad and Tehran have also revived a project to build a pipeline from the Kirkuk fields to central Iran and then to ports in the Gulf, according to Hamid Hosseini, Iranian secretary-general of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce.
Reuters quoted Hosseini as saying that his country wanted “to build a pipeline that can take as much as 650,000 bpd of Kurdish oil for its domestic refineries and for exports.”
The agency added that the pipeline would replace existing export routes for crude from northern Iraq via Turkey and the Mediterranean and would be “a blow to Ankara’s hopes of becoming an energy hub for Europe.” The project will also be a sign of the failure of U.S. policy aimed at preventing further rapprochement between its ally Iraq and one of its biggest political foes, Iran, which is rapidly regaining influence in the Middle East.
The agency emphasized General Qassem Soleimani’s “keen interest in Iran’s oil business in Iraq,” noting that the commander of the Quds force – the international branch of the Revolutionary Guards – has visited Iraq’s Kurdistan in September to warn the region against holding the referendum. He was also involved in the Iraqi army’s recapture of Kirkuk.
“In Iraq, Iranian forces are working to sow discord as we recently saw in Kirkuk, where the presence of Quds force commander, Qassem Soleimani, exacerbated tensions among the Kurds and the government in Baghdad. The Kurdish dream of being a big oil exporter is in tatters,” said a source close to the government in Erbil, who predicted that “Iran will be king of the game,” U.S. Senator John McCain said in Washington last week.
The Kurds’ bid for independence angered Turkey and Iran, which both have large Kurdish populations and condemned the referendum as destabilizing the region. The United States also called on Kurdistan to scrap the vote.