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Kurds quit last Kirkuk sector

October 20, 2017

Kirkuk’s last Kurdish sector has fallen to forces of Iraq’s government as Baghdad seeks to reassert authority. To the north, inside core Kurdistan, a Russian firm has taken control of a key oil export pipeline.

A boy on a bicycle with an Iraqi flag in Kirkuk's Dibis area
Image: Reuters/A. Al-Marjani

Iraq's military said its forces on Friday retook Altun Kupri, the last sector of Kirkuk, an Iraqi oil hub, which Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized in 2014 to prevent its capture in an Islamic State (IS) sweep.

Iraqi and Kurdish media said peshmerga forces briefly exchanged gunfire with advancing Iraqi forces on Friday before quitting, completing an otherwise largely unopposed drive that saw Kirkuk city captured last Monday.

Altun Kupri lies 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Irbil and outside semi-autonomous Kurdistan whose recent independence vote infuriated Baghdad.

Karte Infografik Kurden Irak Oktober 2017 ENG

A spokesman for Iraqi forces said they included US-trained commando units, Iranian-backed Shiite Popular Mobilization units and Iraqi federal police.

For Kurds, the loss of Kirkuk has prompted widespread recriminations over regional president Massud Barzani and militia rivalries.

Kurdish pipeline share goes to Rosneft 

Russland Ölgesellschaft Rosnet
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Y. Kochetkov

In what appeared to be Russian backing for Kurds in Irbil, Reuters said Russia's biggest oil concern, Rosneft, had agreed to take a majority stake in Kurdistan's main pipeline which funnels oil exports to Turkey's port of Ceyhan.

The contract was signed in Verona, Italy, late Thursday by Kurdish resources minister Ashti Hawrami and Rosneft boss Igor Sechin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The calculation here is that the presence of Rosneft and the Kremlin will boost the sense of security,” said one industry source close to Irbil.

Oil deal angers Baghdad

Iraq's Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaybi reacted angrily to the deal, saying Baghdad alone was entitled to develop oil and gas strategy and "sign agreements with foreign countries and companies."

Sechin replied that Iraq and Kurdistan needed to solve their disputes.

"I am not a politician; my job is to produce oil,” Sechin told Russian news agencies.

Rosneft said it would own 60 percent of the pipeline, with its current operator, the KAR Group, retaining 40 percent, in a "promising” oil extraction region.

Tanker ships at Turkey's Ceyhan oil terminal
Tankers loading crude from Iraq at CeyhanImage: AP

The Russian investment in the project was expected to total $1.8 billion (1.5 billion euros). Rosneft had also agreed to invest a further $400 million in exploration for crude oil in five blocks.

Kurdish oil exports disrupted

Baghdad's capture of Kirkuk, Iraq's second oil hub, disrupted Kurdish exports, which are currently running at only a third of capacity.

Reuters said that had left Kurdistan with debts owed to Rosneft and other oil traders as well as Turkey to be paid for via future oil sales.

Baghdad, meanwhile, had asked major oil concern BP to return to Kirkuk to help revive production to deprive Irbil of revenues.

ipj/ng (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)