David O'Byrne in Istanbul -
Turkey has performed a volte face and confirmed that it is allowing Kurdish Peshmerga forces to pass through Turkey to help defend the northern Syrian town of Kobane, under siege by militants of the Islamic State organisation (IS ). Those Peshmerga forces are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq, with whom Turkey has been building crucial energy interests, thus self-interest is likely behind the decision.
Turkish foreign ministry officials confirmed on October 20 that the movement of Peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq through Turkey to Kobane has already begun, despite Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stating at a press conference earlier in the day that discussions were still ongoing.
Cavusoglu did not elaborate on who the talks were being held with – the Kurdistan regional Government (KRG), the international coalition, or both – however the speed with which an agreement appears to have been reached indicates that Turkey realised that it needs both to take the threat posed to its own security by IS seriously, and to be seen to be doing so by its allies.
Cavusoglu commented that Turkey has been in full cooperation with the international coalition with respect to Kobane and that Turkey had never wanted the town to fall under the control of IS. "We want the region to be clear of threats," he said.
Previously, Turkish police have acted with no little force to prevent Kurds from northern Syria who had fled to Turkey to escape IS from returning across the border to help in the defence of the besieged town. This prompted allegations that Turkey was prepared to allow the town to fall into the hands of IS in preference to it remaining under the control of Syrian Kurdish political party, the PYD and its armed wing, the YPG.
Ankara maintains that the YPG is closely allied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has for the past 30 years been conducting a guerrilla war in the mainly Kurdish populated southeast of Turkey, and which is recognised as a terrorist group by both the EU and US.
The PKK in mid-October ended its 18-month ceasefire, prompting Turkish fighter planes to attack its positions in mountain areas of south east Turkey.
The Peshmerga Kurdish forces being allowed through Turkey to Kobane are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq, with which Turkey has been maintaining surprisingly good relations, despite the presence of PKK bases in the KRG controlled region. Both sides have good reason for being friends in spite of obvious ethnic tensions.
The KRG-controlled region contains vast reserves of both crude oil and natural gas. Having all but officially separated from the rest of Iraq with which it has poor relations, the KRG needs Turkey as the sole export route through which it can monetise its hydrocarbons.
Turkey, for its part, has the 1.5m barrel a day (b/d) Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which has been running at a fraction of capacity since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait; since December last year, the KRG has been exporting crude through Turkey, via the Kirkuk-Ceyhan line. In addition, Turkey has an urgent need for more gas both to meet growing domestic energy demand and as a source of revenue through export on to markets in Europe.
Speaking on Turkish TV on October 20, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz confirmed that to date 18m barrels of KRG oil have been exported valued at around $1.5bn and that over the past few months flow has more than doubled to a current 240,000 b/d.
Last year also saw Turkey and the KRG sign a number of gas export agreements, the details of which have not been made public.
However, Turkey's environment ministry in September published the environmental impact study for a new gas pipeline that will connect the existing gas transit grid of Turkey's state gas importer Botas to the Turkey-Iraq (KRG) border, with a capacity of around 20bn cubic metres a year – in effect a major import line with more than enough to meet Turkey's growing demand and leave plenty more for transit to Europe.
Not for nothing did Yildiz also comment that the ongoing IS insurgency is hampering regional energy projects.
Turkey may still have security concerns over the arming of Kurdish forces in northern Syria, but as long as it enjoys joint energy interests with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), it appears those concerns do not include the KRG controlled Peshmerga forces.
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