A senior leader of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region insisted on Wednesday that it had the right to export oil, efforts which the central government in Baghdad has decried as illegal.
The remarks by the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan came just days ahead of the three-province region’s parliamentary election, in which Kurdish leaders repeatedly have vowed to defend their autonomous area against Baghdad.
“I want to assure foreign companies in the region that the Kurdistan regional government will pursue its policies of developing” oil production, Nechirvan Barzani said during a news conference in the regional capital Arbil.
Discussing a recently concluded deal with Turkey, Barzani insisted Kurdish energy ambitions “do not represent a danger to any country in the region, and we do not want to act outside of the framework of the Iraqi constitution.”
But, he added, “we are resolved to export oil to Turkey and other European countries.”
Iraqi Kurdistan has its own parliament, for which it will hold elections on Saturday, and operates with a great deal of autonomy from Iraq’s central government.
But it has drawn the ire of Baghdad for making moves towards setting up an oil export pipeline, ferrying crude across the border to Turkey and signing contracts with foreign energy firms without the expressed consent of the federal oil ministry.
The two sides are also locked in dispute over a swathe of territory in north Iraq.
The latter row is regarded by diplomats as one of the biggest threats to the country’s long-term stability.