Iraqi oil smuggling leads to confusion and violence
An Iraqi works at the Kirkuk station on the Iraq-Turkey pipeline. © Karim Sahib - AFP/File
Iraqi oil smuggling leads to confusion and violence
Sarah Price and Nizar Latif
Last updated: November 30, 2012

Iraqi oil smuggling leads to confusion and violence

Iran's growing influence in Iraq and the country's notoriously porous borders are being blamed for the recent increase in reports of oil smuggling.

Many members of parliament claim that the problem is that Iraq has a declining amount of control over its own borders, particularly where it involves Iran, while others fight over who is doing it, and for whose benefit.  They have addressed the issue with the government, stating that tighter control of the borders is vital, in order to maintain the national wealth.

Qays al-Shather, an MP from the Iraqiya list cites “official reports,” and claims they prove there are “operations in place to smuggle crude oil abroad to Iraq's neighboring countries, with the assistance of private companies.”  He is calling on the government and Iraq's Oil Police to stop the practice.

A source in one of the oil transport companies, who are paid four to five thousand dollars per 30-40-ton tank, said that Tehran transfers large amounts of Iranian oil to Syria through Iraq, with the consent of the Iraqi government, using side roads. Once inside Syria, the oil is protected by army guards.

Mohammed Mulla Hassan, the mayor of Khanaqin, in Diyala province, has accused the Iraqi government and the Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs, Hussain al-Shahristani, of turning a blind eye to Iran stealing from one of Iraq's oldest oil fields, Naft Khana, located in the disputed Kurdish area.

Naft Khana, which is shared between Iran and Iraq, has a production capacity of up to 16,000 barrels a day, but according to oil officials production is currently down to 5,000. Of its 42 oil wells, only four are being used. Hassan says that resuming the extraction of oil from the area would make it harder for Iran to take it, but he says his requests to do so have been ignored.

The shared fields are estimated to have approximately 14 billion barrels of crude oil.

One official, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the oil Iran is taking from Naft Khana is being sent to Syria, in support of the regime.

The government in Baghdad has yet to pass an oil and gas bill that was drafted in 2006, causing confusion and loopholes in the decisions on how to deal with and utilize the resources. Prime Minister Maliki angered Kurdish officials in July when he accused them of smuggling oil. Kurdish officials responded that their oil export practices were within the law, and that they could not wait for Baghdad to pass legislation.

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Arif Tayfur of the Kurdistan Democratic Party says that the silence of the government and the oil ministry is equivalent to a green light for Iran to sell all the oil as it sees fit.  Protests from officials and locals alike have fallen on Iraqi government deaf ears thus far.

Besides the state-approved removal of oil by Iran, smuggling has also become rampant among gangs, siphoning the oil out of Iraqi pipelines to neighboring countries through the Persian Gulf. This not only deprives Iraq of much-needed revenue for job creation and infrastructure rebuilding, it is also a source of violence and terrorism due to turf wars.


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