ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—In a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani hailed the Iraqi government’s approval of a new oil and gas agreement between Baghdad and Erbil.

However, PM Barzani added, “Approving that agreement doesn’t mean all the issues with Baghdad have been solved.”Following a meeting between Kurdistan Region’s Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Roz Nuri Shaways in Erbil last week, an understanding was reached whereby the Iraqi government will pay the expenses of foreign oil companies that work in the Kurdistan Region.

“The agreement is good for all sides. It is good for Iraq and for the Kurdistan Region and it resolves most of the oil problems,” Hawrami told Rudaw. “We told them that we have not hidden anything or done anything secretly. The Iraqi financial auditing authorities can come [to Kurdistan] and we will clarify everything for them.”

For years, the Iraqi deputy prime minister for energy affairs, Hussain Shahristani, considered all oil deals between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and foreign companies as illegal and threatened to blacklist the companies.

But PM Barzani said on Wednesday that the companies are too big to be deterred by Baghdad’s threats and that this policy was doomed to fail.

“The companies are aware and they know that Shahristani blacklists them, but they still come here,” he said. “Those companies are giant and they can stand such a move.”

Meanwhile the prime minister thanked Baghdad for signing the new agreement that aims to ease tensions between the federal government and Erbil over issues of oil and gas.

Earlier this year, Kurdish officials signed an agreement with Ankara to send crude oil for refinement in Turkey.

The move was meant to compensate for the shortage of refined oil in the region caused by Baghdad’s decision to cut Kurdistan’s share of 140,000 barrels of refined oil per day to 15,000.

This agreement between Turkey and Erbil angered the Iraqi government, but PM Barzani said that there isn’t any law that specifies that the export of oil must be given to one company only.

“There isn’t a law that says only SOMO can export Iraq’s oil,” the prime minister said.

According to the Iraqi constitution, Kurdistan is to receive 17 percent of Iraq’s budget annually, but in the past several years Kurdish authorities have complained that Baghdad has sent only 11 to 12 percent.

In the press conference, PM Barzani said that the new agreement stipulates that the Iraqi government pays the full amount of Kurdistan’s budget and that Baghdad has agreed to abide by its obligation from now on.

The dispute between Erbil and Baghdad hasn’t only been over oil and gas. Kurdish officials have long accused Baghdad for not implementing Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution that aims to solve the issue of disputed territories in Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala provinces.
“By implementing Article 140, all of Iraq’s problems would be solved,” PM Barzani said.

Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil reached their peak when Kurdish leaders—led by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani—launched a campaign to withdraw confidence from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraqi Parliament.

Some local observers said that the Kurdish president had personal grievances with Maliki, but PM Barzani dismissed such claims.

“What Massoud Barzani is doing is demanding the rights of a nation,” he said.

As Baghdad and Erbil are coming closer to solving their disputes over oil and gas, Kurdish authorities are deeply concerned about a recent decision by PM Maliki to form the Dijla Operations Command, combined of Iraqi soldiers and forces from the Interior Ministry in Kirkuk and Diyala.

“Maliki told President Talabani that he would stop his plans for the operations command, but unfortunately he is still going ahead with it,” PM Barzani said.

He added, “The formation of this new force is exactly like what the Baath government did: creating a special command for the north under Ali Hassan Majid.”

Source: Rudaw