Karim: ‘What have we received from Baghdad?
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region-- There are no logical reasons for the disputed province of Kirkuk to remain with the Iraqi state since Baghdad systematically pursues a policy of discrimination against the province and deprives it of its own oil revenues, says Kirkuk's colorful governor Najmadin Karim in an interview with the Voice of America's Kurdish service.
"What have we received from Baghdad? It favors one particular ethnic group at the expense of Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk," said Karim in reference to the Arab population of the province apparently privileged by Baghdad's monetary policies.
"We have not received a single dinar from the so-called petrodollar money that the Iraqi government owes Kirkuk, so why would we stay with Baghdad. This is why the people of Kirkuk should make a decision in the referendum and decide whether they want the province to be an independent region or return to the Kurdistan Region," he said.
Under the terms of a compensation system called the petrodollar, Kirkuk should receive $2 for each exported barrel of oil.
According to Kirkuk officials, oil production in the city that holds nearly 10 percent of Iraq's estimated 140 billion barrels reserve, has grown to some 450,000 barrels per day, with 300,000 of it exported to the Turkish Ceyhan port by Erbil and Baghdad.
The governor said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has paid its share of petrodollars to Kirkuk, while the Iraqi government had withheld all payments to the city despite earlier agreements.
Both the KRG and Iraq’s Northern Oil Company (NOC) export oil from the province using a KRG-owned pipeline to Turkey. Iraq’s own northern pipeline was seized and damaged by militants during the ISIS offensive.
"The Peshmerga and the security forces (Asayesh) and some 8,000 employees of Kurdish studies receive their monthly payments from the KRG in addition to the retired Peshmerga and the families of the martyrs all receive their wages from the KRG," the governor said, explaining that the payments had added to the economic crunch in the Kurdistan Region.
Karim also said that the KRG had regularly paid the so-called petrodollar compensation to the city in contrast to the Iraqi government, which has withheld the payments since 2014.
"Over the past decades when Iraq exported Kirkuk's oil, the city itself was never consulted and could not be part of the decisions regarding its own oil," he said.
"It is still the Iraqi central government that employs people in Kirkuk and the Kurdish share of employments is considerably low. Kurds constitute only 7 percent of the NOC," he said.
An anticipated referendum is expected to be held in the province along with the rest of Kurdish controlled territories, which is set to decide the future status of many disputed areas including Kirkuk, which is shared by Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.