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Gas behind Iran’s violent bombing of Erbil

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Iraqi and Turkish officials said a fledgling plan for the Iraqi Kurdistan region to supply gas to Turkey and Europe with Israel’s help is part of what has angered Iran and prompted it to bombard the Kurdish capital Erbil with ballistic missiles this month.
The March 13 attack in Erbil shocked officials across the region with its ferocity and was a rare public attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard said the attack hit Israeli “strategic centers” in Erbil and was in response to an Israeli-launched airstrike that killed two of its members in Syria.

But the choice of target baffled many officials and analysts.

Most of the twelve missiles hit the house of a Kurdish businessman who works in the energy sector in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Iraqi and Turkish officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity this week, said they believed the attack was a multiple message to US allies in the region, but that the main motivation was a plan to pump Kurdish gas into Turkey. and Europe with the participation of Israel.

“There were two meetings recently between Israeli and American officials and energy specialists in the village to discuss sending gas from Kurdistan to Turkey through a new pipeline,” an Iraqi security official said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A senior Iranian security official told Reuters the attack was “a multipurpose message to many people and groups. It is up to them how to interpret it. Whatever Israel plans, from the energy sector to agriculture, it will not come true.” “

Two Turkish officials confirmed the existence of recent talks, involving US and Israeli officials, to discuss Iraq’s natural gas supplies to Turkey and Europe, but did not reveal their location.

The Iraqi security official and a former US official familiar with the plans said the Kurdish businessman whose home was hit by Iranian missiles, Baz Karim al-Barzanji, was developing a gas export pipeline.

This revelation places Iran’s attack on Erbil in the context of regional parties’ energy interests, and not a single Israeli military strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as has been widely reported.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of the matter. Al-Barzanji’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The office of Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani denied holding meetings with US and Israeli officials to discuss an oil pipeline at Barzanji’s home. The Kurds deny any Israeli military or official presence on their land.

Turkish-Israeli rapprochement

Most of the Turkish, Iraqi and Western sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The sources said the move comes at a politically sensitive time for Iran and the region, as the gas export plan may threaten Iran’s position as a major gas supplier to Iraq and Turkey, while its economy is still under strain. the weight of international sanctions.

Efforts to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and the West have floundered in recent weeks, raising questions about the possibility of lifting sanctions on Iran, including on its oil sector.

It also comes at a time when Israel, Iran’s biggest enemy in the region, and Turkey are strengthening their relations and seeking more cooperation in the energy field, while sanctions imposed on Russia, due to its invasion of Ukraine, threaten a severe power shortage. in Europe.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Turkey and Israel could work together to transport Israeli gas to Europe. Erdogan also met with Barzani and said Ankara wanted to sign a natural gas supply deal with Iraq.

Iraqi and Turkish officials did not give specific details about the plan to pump gas from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey, nor did they specify what stage it had reached or what Israel’s role was in the project.

“The timing of the attack in Erbil is interesting,” one of the Turkish officials said. “It appears to have been primarily aimed at energy exports from northern Iraq and potential cooperation that could include Israel.”

There has been some talk about natural gas exports from northern Iraq and we know that Iraq, the United States and Israel are involved in this process. Turkey also supports that.”

The Iraqi security official said that at least two meetings were held in the house where Al-Barzanji lives to discuss this matter with US and Israeli energy experts, which he said explains the choice of target for the attack with Iranian missiles.

No one was seriously injured in the attack, but the villa was badly damaged.

An Iraqi government official and a Western diplomat in Iraq said al-Barzanji was known to host foreign officials and businessmen, including Israelis, at his home.

The Iraqi security official and the former US official said Barzanji-owned Kar Oil Group was working to speed up the pipeline. Ultimately, the former US official said, the new pipeline would connect to an already completed line on the Turkish side of the border.

Fawzi Hariri, head of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region Presidency office, said that it was the Kar Group that built and now manages the local oil pipeline in Kurdistan, and also owns a third of the Kurdistan crude oil export pipeline under a financial leasing. agreement, and the rest is owned by Russia’s Rosneft.

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