Monday, January 29, 2007

Ankara bridles at Baghdad's handoff of key oil file to Kurdish authorities

Agence France Presse

ANKARA: Turkey angrily called on Baghdad Monday to retract an apparent decision making the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq Turkey's sole interlocutors for contract renewals of Turkish firms that ship petroleum products to Iraq. State Minister for Foreign Trade Kursad Tuzmen accused Iraq's central government of breaching bilateral agreements and warned that failure to rectify the situation would force Ankara "to revise certain policies" vis-a-vis its neighbor.

"A unilateral decision such as this points to a change of policy ... We expect an explanation," Tuzmen told reporters in televised remarks. "We expect Iraq to stand by its signature. If it complies with the agreements, the problem will be resolved. ... Our patience has limits. Iraq's failure to comply with the agreements will lead us to revise certain policies."

Ankara became aware of the decision on January 11 through letters sent by the Iraqi state oil marketing agency SOMO to Turkish companies, referring them exclusively to the Kurdish regional government for any contract renewals.

Ankara's attempts since to contact SOMO officials to obtain confirmation and explanations have failed, Tuzmen said.

"Our only interlocutor is the central government," he said, calling on Baghdad to display "serious statesmanship."

Although the issue appears purely economic and bureaucratic, it has political connotations for Turkey: Ankara fears that Kurdish control of northern Iraqi oil resources will boost what it suspects are Kurdish ambitions to break away from Baghdad and, in turn, fan separatism among Turkish Kurds.

The controversy follows stern Turkish warnings to the Iraqi Kurds over the ethnically volatile, oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, which Kurdish leaders want to annex.

Turkey imports Iraqi oil, which it refines and sends back to Iraq by tanker trucks.

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