Turkey pulls no punches in its claim to be a regional leader and the pursuit of what it apparently deems its consequent right to act with impunity. It is now reportedly ready to anger the Iraqi government by buying gas directly from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, an official from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) claimed on July 3.
The KRG could begin selling natural gas directly to Turkey within two years, its energy minister said, a move likely to anger the central government and further strain Baghdad's ties with Ankara, reports Reuters.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad have rowed for years over issues including late payments for crude, the legality of the regional government's oil deals and disputed territory. Baghdad accuses the Kurds of smuggling their oil abroad, mainly to Iran, and wrecking the central budget by denying it revenue.
"Even if there's no consensus with Baghdad, we will continue to sell natural gas and oil to Turkey," KRG Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami told the Caspian Gas Forum in Istanbul. "We plan to sell 10bn cubic metres of natural gas to Turkey, and later Europe in the long-term," he said, adding that sales were expected to begin within 18 months to two years.
Most Kurdish oil is still pumped into the national pipeline system, but there is one pipeline carrying about 60,000 barrels per day that already feeds directly from Kurdistan's Tawke oilfield into the main pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Ankara's latest move to bypass Baghdad on gas could further strain ties between Iraq and Turkey, which have suffered under the latter's strategy to forge solid political and trade ties with southern Kurds in recent years.
Iraq is currently the second-biggest market after Germany for Turkish exports, amounting to more than $8bn last year. But according to Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, about 70% of those exports get no further than the very north of the country.
Turkish officials have been locked in a war of words with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki since December, when he ordered the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, based on allegations that he ran death squads. Turkey, the majority of whose people are Sunnis, has accused Shi'ite Maliki of stirring ethnic tension. The Iraqi prime minister has accused Turkey of meddling in its affairs.
Turkey's increasing economic power - and the increasing push for status by the ruling AKP - has led the country into numerous scrapes in the volatile region as Ankara pushes its credentials as a regional leader. The latest high-profile spat is of course with Syria, where Turkey has openly encouraged opposition forces, whilst diplomatic ties with Iran have been bumpy, despite Turkey's refusal to fall into line with international sanctions against Tehran, and Israeli relations remain tense.