Far from slowing them down, the difficulties of the war and the general instability of the region have pushed the Kurds still further on the way to economic independence. Oil sales from the Kurdish Government have continued to increase. On 7 November, Ashti Hawrami, its Minister for Natural resources announced that exports to the port of Ceyhan, in Turkey, had reached almost 300,000 barrels a day — official Turkish sources giving the figure of 280,000 barrels — at the end of October. He added that by the beginning of 2015 the Erbil government hoped to pass the level of 500,000 barrels a day, since three new oil fields should be producing by then. Ashti Hawrami affirmed that the Kurds have “no preferences in selling their oil” and that the demand was greater than they could supply. About 25 or 26 shiploads had already left Ceyhan, and the sales total in November amounted to 20 million barrels. The volume should have increased to 34 million barrels worth about 2 billion dollars. The Minister further confirmed that his country had already been paid for these sales and was expecting to receive the price of the sale of another ten shiploads (Reuters).
The money earned by the Kurdish oil sales is no longer sent to Baghdad but is deposited in a Turkish bank. This spurred the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Al-Jaffari, while on a visit to Ankara to demand that these sums be sent to Iraq, adding that he knew that the money “was in safe hands”. However, the fact that relations between Baghdad ands Ankara have warmed recently (they had cooled considerably during the period of the Maliki government) does not mean that Baghdad is likely to issue another “ultimatum” as was its wont previously. Al-Jaffari’s message was rather to affirm that there was no crisis between Iraq ad Turkey over the issue of Kurdish oil, which is essentially an “internal” dispute between Erbil and the Iraqi central government.
Moreover, whatever might be the Iraqi government’s “demands”, Turkey is probably not prepared to forego it’s access to Kurdistan’s resources to comply with Baghdad’s wishes. Thus, on 13 November, Genel Energy signed a new agreement with the KRG to develop and operate two enormous new gas deposits that might be able to supply Turkey with gas during the winter of 2017/8. The reserves of the Miram and Bine Bawi fields are estimated at 11.4 trillion cubic feet and with an estimated 2.6 billion dollars.
Meanwhile, on 5 November negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad began again in Erbil, following a meeting between the new Iraqi President, Fuad Massum, (who is, himself, a Kurd) and Masud Barzani, the President of Kurdistan. Indeed, the latter stated that their minimum objective was to find “a solution to the existing problems between the central and regional governments”.
However, this agreement will certainly not involve a step backwards by the Kurds on their path towards economic emancipation. On 12 November, the Kurdistan Government approved a project for creating a company for the operation and production of oil. This company will not depend on the central government and its shares will be sold to public bodies. It also set up a Kurdish sovereign fund, constituted by all the income from energy sources. The project was ratified by Prime Minister Nêçirvan Barzani, after a meeting of the Council of Ministers and will be submitted to parliament in Erbil.
The new company’s activities will cover all aspects of the oil and gas sectors, the signing of contracts, the production and operation, investment, export and sales. The Prime Minister also pointed out that “this company could become, after a while, a public limited one, shares of which may be bought by all the citizens”.
Finally, less than ten days after the Massum-Barzani meeting, the KRG announced, through its spokesman, Safeen Diyazi, that an agreement had been reached with Baghdad and that the central government had accepted to send Erbil over 500 million dollars in exchange for 150,000 barrels of oil per day that the Kurdish government is committed to supply. The agreement was concluded in Baghdad following a meeting between that the Iraq Oil Minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, the Kurdish Prime Minister, Nêçirvan Barzani, and his Deputy Prime Minister, Qubad Talabani. It was described as a “major breakthrough” by the Iraqi Finance Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, (himself a Kurd) who pointed out that Baghdad was going to renew paying its Kurdish civil servants their salaries.
While this is certainly not the first agreement reached between the Kurds and the Arabs in the longstanding dispute. All had been simply provisional compromises and most of them had never been carried out. This one, too, had not dealt with the basic issue: did or did not Iraq accept the Kurds’ independence in the management of their hydrocarbon resources? For the year 2014 had been a rude economic shock for Erbil, suddenly confronted with Baghdad’s freezing the salaries of civil service (which was certainly overmanned). This was then followed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees additional to those of Syrian Kurds and finally the attacks by the IS while its Peshmergas received no pay and were woefully lacking in weaponry. Left to cope with the Da’esh danger on its own by both Baghdad and Ankara (neither of whom hastened to provide any help) Iraqi Kurdistan does not hide its determination to ensure as quickly as possible its financial autonomy, faced as it is by a political and security atmosphere in the region that is unlikely to calm down.
According to Gareth Stanfield, an expert on Iraq at Exeter University, this agreement was secured for the time being because it was urgently needed by both Baghdad and Erbil: “Both parties were in a very weak situation and this common weakness enabled them to find what is only a stop gap measure”(Reuters).
In any case, the differences are not ended — on 28 November the Kurdish Ministers of the Iraqi government threatened to boycott the vote accepting the 2015 Budget id Baghdad sis not end its freeze of the budgetary payments to the Kurdish Region.
After its first reading, it became apparent that this budget still included financial sanctions against the Kurdistan Region taken by the former Prime Minister. The Iraqi Constitution grants 17% if the total Iraqi budget to the Kurdish Region but the Erbil government also complains that it has never received more than 11% — en on the occasions when it was paid at all . . .
Another dispute that has been pending for several years covers the pay of the Peshmergas, that Baghdad has always left to the Kurds to cover, which the latter have always attacked since the Peshmergas were, in the Iraqi Constitution, named as one of the Iraqi national defence forces. At a time when the war effort and the burden of Iraqi refugees is being mainly born by the Kurds, these demands are still more pressing.
Finally, another agreement provides for Erbil delivering 550,000 barrels a day to Ceygan port for Iraq through the Iraqi State company SOMO, in exchange for which Kurdistan will again receive its original monthly budget of about a billion dollars.
It should be noted that of the 550,000 barrels a day, 300,000 will come from Kirkuk and the remaining 250,000 from the Kurdish Region as defined by its pre-2014 borders. While Iraq has not yet officially confirmed the return of Kirkuk to the KRG, Baghdad, deprived of oil from Mosul and its pipeline, can only export that from the Kurdish via Ceyhan. Hence their acceptance, willy nilly, of a de facto situation created by the Da’esh capture of Mosul. As for the Kurds, this improvement in their finances will enable them to pay the oil companies that are drilling and operating the oil on their land.
Another significant gain for is that the Federal government will finally allocate part of its defence budget to the Peshmergas. According to Prime Minister this amounts to about a billion dollars, while al-Abadi’s cabinet mentioned, more vaguely “a percentage of the Defence budget”.
On 19 November the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan was hit by a bomb attack in the heart of its historic quarter, at the entry to the Provincial Governorate and near the Citadel and the old bazaar.
Shortly before midday local time, a car bomb charged suicidally into the Governorate entrance, at the main checkpoint that protects access to the building. The resulting explosion caused 4 deaths, two of which were policemen, and 29 injured,
Even before the attack was openly claimed, everything seemed to point to the IS, which is openly at war with Kurdistan as well as with Iraq and Syria. Prior to this, the last such attack in Erbil had been in September 2013, against the Headquarters of the Asayish (the KRG’s police) causing seven deaths and sixty injured.
There was some confusion about the identity of the terrorist. Some eye witnesses said that the driver of the suicide car was a woman. Thus one of those wounded, when questioned at the hospital by the Rudaw TV channel, said that he had seen a woman wearing a black headscarf park a Honda on the wrong side of the street, before moving it “and the explosion took place”. Moreover a pair of women’s’ shoes was found in the vehicle’s wreckage. However, in claiming responsibility for the attack, the IS gave the terrorist’s name as Abdul Rahman al-Kurdi. However the fact of insisting on a Kurdish identity (true or not) could just be an aspect of its psychological warfare. As men on their own are systematically turned back at the KRG’s borders and, moreover, are more likely to be examined during their movements and at checkpoints, many terrorists dress up like women, especially as the long black headscarves are convenient for hiding their identity
Tahir Abdullah, the Governor of Erbil, stated in a press conference that the car used tried to penetrate into the governorate building but was stopped by gunfire from the security forces. Three guards and a civilian were killed and eight other police were injured.
The case of one of the civilians particularly aroused public feeling: Sofi Ahmed, who was killed while shooting at the car in order to stop it, had just lost a brother, killed at the front fighting the IS. A widow and four small children survive him.
This attack brings to the forefront the difficult issue of the internal of Kurdistan at a time when it is sheltering hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq, who have fled the IS.
The Asayish and all the security forces have, from the first, stressed the danger of infiltration by the Da’esh, which does not scruple about recruiting woman for their suicide missions and even children. Kurdish public opinion seems increasingly hostile to an indiscriminate reception of people from Mosul and other Sunni Arab provinces although the question of opening the borders to Christians is freely accepted.
Immediately after the attack, security measures were strengthened as well as stricter controls at checkpoints. Consequently Iraqi Arabs going to the Kurdish region are complaining of having to wait for hours before crossing the border and even while travelling inside Kurdistan.
Hitherto any Iraqi Arab citizen had to provide a “Kurdish guarantor”, who would answer for him, before being allowed to enter Kurdistan. However, other more restrictive measures are envisaged as a security official revealed to the daily paper Niqash, without giving any details.
There have been rumours going around that the Asayish had asked every Kurdish citizen to watch and even to check the identity of Arab “suspects”. This has been rapidly and officially denied by leading Kurds, who published a statement on this subject, making the point that, while all inhabitants should be vigilant and report anything suspicious to the police, identity checks and arrests are the responsibility of the police and security forces. Thus anyone usurping these functions would himself e arrested: “The Arab families living in Erbil have fulfilled all the conditions required by the security forces for entry and their identities have been verified. Acton will be taken against any person found to be here illegally or who has connections with a terrorist organisation”.
In general, Kurdish political circles condemn any stigmatisation of Arabs living in Kurdistan but do support the need for security measures and stricter controls. Moreover, the Kurdish government has banned, since last summer, any demonstrations on its soil, directed against Arab residents or which demand the expulsion of refugees.
The international NGO, Human Rights Watch, published in November a report on the situation of the torturing and ill treatment to which are subjected child prisoners of the IS, notably 153 young Kurdish boys aged between 14 and 16.
In fact, in May 2014 about 250 Kurdish schoolchildren were kidnapped on the road from Kobani to their homes. They had been sitting their end of year exams in Aleppo on 29 May. The IS, that had not yet begun its policy of enslaving and forced marriage on a big scale, released all the girls (about a hundred of them) but kept the boys, who were taken to Manbij and detained in a school.
Since then, about 50 of them have managed to escape or been exchanged for Jihadist prisoners held by the YPG. On 29 October last, the PYD announced that 25 young prisoners had also been released and handed over to the YPG, who enabled them to cross the Turkish border, since the Kobani canton had been over-run by the Da’esh and the bulk of its population had sought refuge near Suroç.
Four of the children who had managed to escape were questioned by Human Rights Watch and said that they had been beaten repeatedly with electric cables or hose pipes, on their hands and the soles of their feet as well as being obliged to watch IS videos of attacks and of decapitations. The children were also obliged to attend courses of religious instruction and pray five times a day. One of the children who, at the moment of his capture, had called on his mother aloud, was hung by his arms, tied backwards to his feet as a punishment, since “one must never call on anyone except God”..
All those who tried to escape were severely neaten. Those children who had relatives in the YPG forces were suffered more ill treatment than the others because, as one of them, aged 15 years, explained: “Those whose families were close to the YPG suffered most. They (the IS) told the to give the addresses of members of their family, cousins, uncles saying “when we go to Kobani we will take and decapitate them”. They consider the YPG to be Kafirs (unbelievers)”.
The children were divided into eight groups, each group sleeping in one of the school’s classes. They were given three blankets, toe to act as mattresses. The guards allowed them to have a bath once a fortnight. They were fed twice a day, but were not allowed to play out of doors after some succeeded in escaping. They were allowed occasional visits from their parents or relatives or phone calls, but were forbidden to speak Kurdish. From what the children were able to judge, their guards were a mixture of Syrian Arabs with others from Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The Syrians were the most brutal, particularly one called Abu Shahid, who was from Aleppo.
“They made us learn verses from the Qoran and beat those who were unable to remember them. When some boys escaped we were beaten even harder and received less food”.
The four boys questioned said that they were not given any explanation for their release, except that they had ended “their religious lessons”.
“They gave us 150 Syrian pounds (US$ 1) with some religious books and let us leave”.
Since this kidnapping last May, other hostages were taken but the IS when its troops captured villages round Kobani. This other people, adults as well as children were similarly detained nut seem mainly to have been used for bargaining for exchanging prisoners. One young woman, who was released in this way, also reported violent interrogations of captives who had family ties with YPG members.
However, even when they don’t fall into the IS hands, the Kurds of Kobani also die on the Turkish borders, killed by the minefields that have lined the border for several decades past.
Human Rights Watch has thus asked Turkey to immediately re-house the some 2000 refugees in safer areas and to undertake the clearing of the mines along it borders — starting with the areas most likely to be crossed by refugees.
Satellite pictures taken since 1968 show the extent of the belt of mines laid by Turkey along the Syrian border since the 50s. According to Turkish official sources, 615,419 ant9-personnel mines were laid there between 1957 and 1998 “to stop illegal crossings”. Yet nearly 2000 refugees are thus confined in the mined no man’s land of the Tell Shair corridor, to the Northwest of Kobani. As Turkey refuses entry to any vehicles or cattle, and this agricultural population refuses to be separated from their belongings, they remain in the middle of minefields. There is another zone about 9 kilometres from the villages of Mertismail and Çanakcı, similarly occupied by about a hundred Syrians.
Between 15 September and 15 November, 20 mines have exploded at Tell Shair, according to local humanitarian workers questioned by HRW. At least sic of these explosions causes losses to civilians, including a six-years-old boy, and seven others were injured. The other explosions were mainly caused by cattle. The refugees are this also trying to clear the mines themselves and according to witnesses have taken unexploded mines to Turkish soldiers. These mines are particularly dangerous for people on foot — those that were set off by cars and trucks only caused material damage. A Kurdish woman who lost a foot through treading on a mine while freeing from Syria pointed out to the NGO that there were no signs to warn the population that there were mines in these places.
As well as anti-personnel mines, the refugees in these border areas were sometimes hit by mortar fire from the IS forces. Thus one such attack, on 8 November, killed three people, including a child and wounded 15 others.
HRW was able to draw up a list of civilian victims from six mine explosions between 19 and 24 September — all at Tell Shair.
- 19 September, a 35-year-old woman and her daughter of 7, were injured.
- On 21 September two brothers, ages 10 and 11, were wounded
- On 24 September a 6-year-old boy from Khaniq village was killed and two others children from the same village, ages 12 and 13, received serious facial injuries
- On 24 September two youths of 15 and 20 years were decapitated by an explosion
- On 24 September a young girl of five and here 6-year-old brother were wounded.
The local NGOs said that 9 other people had been injured in these 6 explosions but HRW was unable to collect precise details of these cases.
As a signatory of the treaty forbidding the use of anti-personnel mines, Turkey has undertaken to clear 911 Km of its borders of mines since 2009 but has asked for an extension of time from 2014 to 2022 for completing this programme.
For its part, Syria has, since 2011, proceeded to cleat its borders of Russian anti-personnel mines although, like Israel and the Lebanon, it is not a signatory to this treaty, unlike Jordan and Iraq.
On 20 November the Glyphes publishing house brought out a book of political history entitled “Iraqi Kurdistan: from tribe to democracy and presented it in the following terms:
“Iraqi Kurdistan, a Federal Region of Iraq, has emerged from a tribal organisational system and evolved towards democracy”.
The author, basing himself on a historical analysis and a number of interviews, has studied the impact of this evolution on the geopolitical situation of Iraqi Kurdistan. He examines the transformations that led to regional governance in 1992 and to a strong link, social and political, between society and State, tribe and government, tribe and political parties and, eventually between government and political parties. In this way, Ali Dolamari draws a picture of Kurdish identity. He recalls the religious and tribal facts and reveals how the Kurdish national movement came into existence.
The emergence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) provided new geopolitical perspectives to Iraqi Kurdistan after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The region enjoyed marked development, economic, social and political but remains dependent on the central government in certain strategic sectors, such as the management of resources, the future of Kurdish areas outside the Kurdistan Region and the status of the Peshmergas.
The author, Ali Dolamari, who comes from Iraqi Kurdistan, has long been an activist of the Kurdish cause. In 2012 he defended a geopolitical thesis at Paris IV University (Paris Sorbonne). He is, today, an expert in the Department for International Relations of the Kurdistan Regional Government and at the Kurdish Representative Office in France.