Gasoline supplied to Kurdistan by pack mule
Le Monde's Sophie Shihab reports from Erbil:
On the Iraqi-Turkish frontier, the tanker trucks loaded with oil have disappeared
The atmosphere has changed at the Turkish frontier crossing at Habour on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. The nightmarish lines of oil tank trucks that formed for dozens of miles on both sides of the border in December 2005 have disappeared. The crossing itself has been enlarged, with new, modern and almost elegant facilities.
But the situation can be counted as positive only by the occasional traveler. The area is almost deserted. The daily flow of trucks has dropped from several thousand a day to several hundred. The result is disastrous for the Kurdish population on both sides of the frontier whose future depends on relations between Ankara and Erbil, the “capital” of Iraqi Kurdistan --viewed with suspicion by its neighbors.
Turkey refuses to recognize the quasi state that is forming at its periphery. It will negotiate only with Baghdad out of fear of seeing an independent Kurdistan encourage Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
It is with Baghdad that Ankara wishes to negotiate the import of Iraqi crude, which, once refined, would then be re-exported back to Iraq, whose refineries are moribund. But in Habour, the brisk trade has ended as both sides trade mutual accusation of blame.
The crisis is damaging a large number of people. In Iraqi Kurdistan, gasoline is sold only on the black market. All the services stations are closed to be benefit of an underground network whose points of sale are the thousands of hawkers lining up along the roads with their jerricans of gasoline, of which the price has quintupled.
On the Turkish side of the border, an economic depression has struck local Kurdish households, which use to earn a living from the border traffic as truck drivers and taxi drivers and who are no longer authorized to bring back gasoline from Iraq where the cost is the lowest in the world to Turkey --where it is nearly the highest.
The Kurds claim that Turkey has imposed an undeclared embargo on their main inland port to punish them for their drive toward independence, to force them to crack down on the PKK rebel bases in extreme northern Iraq and to dissuade them from annexing the oil capital of Kirkuk.
Ankara rejects the charges and points to the number of Turkish corporations working legally in Iraqi Kurdistan, the electric power that Turkey supplies to Kurdistan in increasing quantities or the export of other products such as LGN, cement, automobiles, etc. entering through Habour. Turkish officials attribute the end to the flow of petroleum across the border to the “reorganization of all services concerned”.
Local translation: Thirty officials accused of corruption have been fired. Among them was the public prosecutor in charge of the investigation corruption who himself became the man who decided which trucks would cross the border. When last heard from this official is still in charge of directing traffic –but so is the Turkish Army, say local residents.
Another version reported to the Le Monde by Safeen Dezai, chief of international relations for the KDP (the party led by Massoud Barzani). Before, dozens of Turkish companies transported oil thorough Habour, but Iraq reduced that number to three. The Turks then proposed twelve companies, but Baghdad insisted on selecting them, he declares. Failing to explain, however, why Kurdish security forces don’t put an end to the local black market trade.
Their gasoline now comes from elsewhere in Iraq and Iran, partially on pack mules through the Kurdish mountains. It is one of the paradoxes of the soaring economy of Kurdistan of which certain distortions (corruption, kickbacks…) are typical of oil states. There are a small number of foreigh oil companies doing some oilfied development –including a Turkish company— but no production is expected for two year.
If before then the division of Iraq’s oil among its regions remains unsettled and the civil war extends into Kurdistan, it is certain that its Turkish and Iranian neighbors will get involved.