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Men walk across sand with orange flames from an oil field  flaring. Member of security forces blocks filming with his hand. Convoy of horses carry plastic canisters of gasoline. Fuel trucks gathered at the Turkish border.

Rough Cut
Iraq: The Fight Over Kirkuk's Oil
Who will control the region's most valuable asset?
 

 

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Length: 14:17

Karzan Sherabayani

A native of Kirkuk, the multilingual Karzan Sherabayani went to live in Italy in 1980, where he created his own Kurdish theater company. He learned film and television production at Tele Europa and later trained to become an actor. In 1992, Sherabayani moved to England. After living in exile for 25 years, Sherabayani returned to Kirkuk three times in 2005. From these visits, he produced and directed the feature-length documentary Return to Kirkuk about his experiences. Most recently, Sherabayani has reported and produced several short films for the U.K.'s Channel 4 news and the BBC.

Now in our second season of online Rough Cut videos, we return this week to Iraqi Kurdistan, the subject of our very first Rough Cut back in June 2005. In the original report, Kurdish exile Karzan Sherabayani took us on an emotional journey to his hometown of Kirkuk, where he saw his family for the first time in 25 years and voted in historic elections there.

This time, he returns to investigate Iraq's growing oil crisis and discovers that much has changed in Kirkuk, home to 40 percent of Iraq's oil fields.

"I am shocked at how much the security has deteriorated," Sherabayani says, surveying the wreckage of a car bomb attack that happened hours earlier. "Kirkuk is a crippled city with shortages of water, electricity and fuel." When he tries to film the long lines of vehicles waiting at gas stations all over town, the local police arrest him.

Insurgents have hit three gas stations in the last few days and everyone is nervous. Sherabayani says the increase in violence is not only part of a battle over Kirkuk's oil wealth but an attempt to destabilize the entire region and drag the Kurds into a civil war. "At the moment, the Kurds are the main force to keep Iraq together and build a democratic government," he says.

His words are especially ironic since the Kurds were the victims of Saddam Hussein's notorious "Anfal" campaign in 1987 and 1988, in which the Iraqi regime used chemical and other weapons to kill as many as 100,000 Kurds. At long last this week, the Iraqi Special Tribunal began to prosecute Saddam for genocide against the Kurds.

Meanwhile, Iraq itself is now in what many believe is a civil war and U.S. casualties have reached at least 2,612.

To find out just how crippling fuel shortages have become, Sherabayani visits a petroleum distribution center in Kirkuk, where the director tells him that production has dropped to the point that Iraq now imports most of its oil.

He then heads north to the Turkish border to see how oil is moving in and out of the country to keep Iraq's economy afloat. Iraq also lacks the capacity to refine the oil it does produce. At the main crossing, oil tankers stretching as far as the eye can see wait to enter Turkey from Iraq. Because of security issues, the Turks often close the border, and anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 trucks can sit for weeks waiting to pass through. The crude oil they carry will be refined in Turkey and then trucked back into Iraq.

"Iraq's oil import and export business seems to be very inefficient," notes Sherabayani, as he scans a giant parking lot.

With the situation made worse by insurgents regularly attacking the pipeline, and striking oil workers disrupting supplies, it's no surprise that smuggling operations have begun to fill the gap. At a remote crossing on the Iranian border, Sherabayani finds convoys of horses loaded up with plastic containers of gasoline. Everyday, Kurds living on the Iranian side trek through a relative no-man's land in broad daylight to sell their contraband fuel. Young Iraqis on the other side tell Sherabayani that reselling the gas is a good way to earn money during the school holidays.

Since Saddam's toppling in 2003, tens of thousands of Kurds have moved back to the north after being driven out by Saddam's "Arabization" program in the 1980s. As their numbers have strengthened so has their resolve to secure what they see as their rightful claim to Kirkuk's oil and gas reserves. But when Sherabayani sweet talks his way into heavily guarded drilling and refinery compounds set up by the Kurdish government, he's told that the Kurds aren't running the operation.

"I am puzzled to discover that my people, finally free from Saddam, are now inviting Turkish companies to control their most important assets," he says. He poses this to the Kurdish deputy prime minister, Omar Fatah, asking him wryly if Kurdistan might end up as a Turkish colony.

His report highlights a country consumed by ethnic and security problems with no easy solutions in sight, but it's also another personal journey for Sherabayani, whose affability in front of the camera and sincere empathy with his fellow countrymen often tinge his reports with a tragicomic effect.

Back in Kirkuk, he stands over a plot of land promised to his family by the new regional government. Like many Kurds, Sherabayani and his family were forced out of their village in 1963 when the land was cleared for oil exploration. After years in exile in Europe, he contemplates the land before him and what it would mean to return.

"This is not for me," he says, shaking his head. "Not yet. But hopefully in the future."

Jackie Bennion
Senior Interactive Producer

REACTIONS

Malm�, Sk�ne
Lets hope that one day Mr. Sherabayani will be able to settle on his land in Kirkuk, and that all Iraqis get the opportunity to live in peace and harmony as they deserve.

Todd Benshoof - Los ngeles, CA
Karzan Sherabayani did a great job providing a glimpse of the daily life of regular people in the region. Basic information regarding the fundamental infrastructure problems is overlooked by mass media. Social and political stability can be founded when the basic needs of the people are met. Thanks for your time and efforts.

Fakhradin Garmiyani - Adelaide, Australia
Karzan Sherabayani is one of the popular artists and well known in Kurdistan through the effective documentary films created by him. This served the Kurdish cause all around the world. Coming for this one about Kirkuk, Kirkuk was the main reason the Kurds suffer for more than 80 years because of the oil, as it is very rich and the greedy central governments in Iraq always suppressed Kurds to chase them away from Kirkuk and surrounding areas. All appreciation and thanks going to Karzan for his fantastic and extraordinary activities regarding the Kurdis cause generally and to Kirkuk in particular. Thank you Karzan; keep up the good and hard work.

Sandman - New York, NY
Looking at this, I realize that we are way over our heads. The average American has no idea what a Kurd or a Shiite is. This region is too complex and the hatred too ingrained for an Iraqi nation to be possible. They should have three distinct nations.

Zryan - Waterloo, Ontario
This man is an honourable man.The Kirkuk issue has been a hole in evey Kurd's heart. Yet we cannot say anything because of Turkey. And Mosul, which has its own mix of population, is also trouble. My philosophy is: once the U.S coalition leaves Iraq, the country will explode, and the peshmarge [Kurdisn forces] will be the first to defend [their territory], and I hope they do defend and not retreat to the mountains. Secondly, independce for a [Kurdish] nation like this is essential, it's a must.

(anonymous)
The Kurdish region of Iraq is a de-facto independent country. This occured by planning and design. The Kurds will drill to capture oil from the giant fields in Kirkuk. They can buy what ever they wish.

Athens, Greece
Thanks for the insight.

Garland, TX
Why is this important problem never mentioned /and or discussed in the News Hour? Who should solve it?

(anonymous)
Am very appreciative of Mr. Sherabayani's insights and perspectives on this region and its tensions. I sincerely hope that his dream to live peacefully in his homeland arrives one day soon, although, realistically, the situation looks bleak.

(anonymous)
So many thanks to you both for this wonderful article. My compassion is with Mr. Sherabayani, as I cannot even imagine what he felt on returning to his devastated homeland.

(anonymous)
I am very surprised to read about the situation in Kirkuk. It is seems to be the ultimate irony as far as the oil and fuel situation is concerned. It also seems to be quite ironic that now that Saddam Hussein is deposed that the violence and death level in that country has escalated and includes our military people.

Earl Prignitz - Richmond, IN
Just evidence of the total mess we have made in Iraq!

charlie lupo - cleveland, TN
I never realized how important the Kurds are to a stable Iraq; I hope they can continue to be the buffer or better yet the glue that helps all Iraqis build a nation they can have pride and confidence in.