The Kirkuk-Ceyhan Pipeline, the Iran-Iraq War and the Creation of PKK

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Iakovos Alhadeff

The oil pipeline of Kirkuk-Ceyhan (or Kirkuk-Yumurtalik) connects the oil rich Northern Iraq with the Turkish port of Ceyhan (white line).


As you can read on page 90 of the following link of the International Transport Forum, an international think tank with 54 member countries, the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline was constructed in 1977 and its capacity was further increased in 1984.

As you can read in the first paragraph of the following Wikipedia link, Abdullah Ocalan established the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in 1978, and he launched his first attack against Turkey  in 1984.’_Party

You can see that the dates of the pipeline and the PKK are almost the same. When the pipeline was constructed the PKK was established, and when the capacity of the pipeline was increased the PKK launched its first attack. Is this a coincidence?

Iran and Iraq are the 4th and 5th richest countries in the world in terms of proven oil reserves. At that time the Iranian-Iraqi relations were very hostile, and they finally went into a very long war, the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. The main conflict was the Shatt al Arab (Arvand Rud) river, which is formed by the Tiger and Euphrates confluence (red circle in the Iran-Iraq borders), and which ends in the Persian Gulf.

This river was, and still is, very important for transfer oil from the rich fields of the region to the Persian Gulf, in order to export it, since the Persian Gulf is the largest oil exporting region in the world. You can read about the river conflict in section ‘Territorial Disputes’ of the following Wikipedia link.

According to the above link, the river of Shatt al Arab was always a source of conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, and they actually had to sign an agreement in 1639 about it. Keep in mind that Tiger and Euphrates are a constant source of conflict between Turkey and Syria too.

Therefore the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline which was of great help to Iraq as a source of extra revenue was a great problem for its foe. It is a common policy in the Middle East to fund various groups, either religious or sectarians or else, in order to attack their competitors’ pipeline infrastructure.

As you can see on the map, Kirkuk is located in Northern Iraq, in the Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdistan is the region in the red diagram, and it also has a Syrian, an Iraqi, an Iranian and a Turkish part. There is no evidence to support that it was Iran that financed the Kurds, but it would be something very reasonable to assume. At the following Wikipedia link you can see that the equivalent to PKK Kurdish organization in Iran, the PJAK, launched its first attack in Iran in 2004. The PKK launched its first attack in 1984 and the PJAK in 2004.

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