Iraq has started to divert its sections of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline to bypass the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and increase its oil exports to Turkey following the controversial independence referendum.
Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar Ali Hussein al-Luiebi Tuesday ordered the diversion of the pipeline connecting the oil fields near the contested city of Kirkuk with the Mediterranean oil terminal of Ceyhan in Turkey.
The Iraqi Oil Ministry said Tuesday that it aims to increase exports through the pipeline to 400,000 barrels per day.
Iraq's National Security Council, which convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi late Monday, asked all neighboring countries to suspend commercial relations with the KRG and work only with Baghdad instead, especially in the oil trade.
The Iraqi section of the pipeline, which starts from Kirkuk, turns southwest to the Baiji refinery and heads northwest to the Turkish border, is largely controlled by the central government. However, some 70 kilometer section of the pipeline falls within the jurisdiction of the KRG or areas de-facto controlled by the KRG.
The section of the pipeline in the Iraqi governorate of Nineveh, along with the Baiji refinery, fell into the hands of the Daesh terrorist group during its summer offensive in 2014, when it captured large swathes of northwestern and central Iraq, including the country's second-largest city of Mosul.
The Iraqi central government has been taking measures against Irbil, the administrative capital of Iraqi Kurdistan in the north of the country, regarding the KRG's Sept. 25 independence referendum. An overwhelming majority of 92 percent voted in favor of independence.
Baghdad has imposed a ban on international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan's airports, saying that flights will only resume if the central government assumes control of the airports.
Iraq has also asked neighboring Turkey and Iran to close their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan and halt all dealings with the Iraqi Kurdish region, especially regarding oil.
On the day of the referendum, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the KRG that Turkey could block oil exports as a response to the referendum, which Baghdad, Turkey, Iran, the U.S., and the U.N. all spoke out against.
"We'll see who the KRG will sell its oil to. Turkey is in control of the valve," he said, referring to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline that connects oil fields in northern Iraq to the oil terminal in the Mediterranean.
Oil revenues are of crucial importance for the KRG's economy, which is suffering from a high rate of unemployment and maintains a lavish bureaucracy compared to its size.