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Iraqi Kurds' energy independence dilemma

Fires flare off the gas from in Kirkuk, Iraq this October. Photo: Emad Matti / AP

After Iraqi Kurds' overwhelming vote for independence last month, their energy strategy is now up in the air, in particular since the Iraqi army moved in to the disputed, oil-rich Kirkuk after the vote, the NYT reports.

Context: Iraqi Kurdish leaders have been courting international companies (think Chevron and Exxon Mobil) for oil and gas deals for years as part of a linchpin to a financially strong independence strategy. Losing Kirkuk means their pitch may no longer be viable on top of already-depressed results in the oil sector.

  • Iraq, including Kurdish output, is the second-largest producer in OPEC (4.5 million barrels of crude per day). The region, however, is exporting 250,000 barrels of oil per day, a quarter of what it estimated a few years ago, per the Times.
  • Chevron recently said it would be backing off its operations in Kurdistan, and Total backed off last year.
  • The region's politically shaky situation makes eventual independence harder to achieve as well: Kurdistan's regional president has said he will vacate his post, which could create a power vacuum and make relations with Ankara and Baghdad more difficult.

Go deeper: Why an independent Kurdistan is so hard to achieve