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Turkey aids Iraqi Kurdistan

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

IRBIL, Iraq — As the rest of Iraq descends into a crisis of deepening violence, the autonomous enclave of Kurdistan is enlisting the help of an unlikely ally, Turkey, to reach for a long-delayed dream of independence.

In many ways, Iraqi Kurdistan acts like a sovereign state. Kurdish authorities provide all public services, command their own army and control their own borders — including their heavily guarded southern border with Arab-majority provinces of Iraq. In Irbil, the Kurdish capital, most government buildings fly the Kurdish flag — not the flag of Iraq — and many members of the younger generation never learned Arabic and speak only Kurdish.

Until now, however, the Kurds have remained tightly tied to Baghdad because they depend on the Iraqi treasury for the vast majority of their regional budget.

That could soon change.

Putting aside years of hostility, Turkish and Kurdish leaders are quietly implementing an energy partnership agreement, signed earlier this year, that promises to provide the Kurdistan region with an independent stream of oil revenue.

The first major step in the plan is a pipeline that runs directly to Turkey, beyond Baghdad's reach, and that will begin operating by the end of the year, according to the Kurdistan region's minister of natural resources, Ashti Hawrami.

“It is our duty as Iraqis to pursue export routes for oil and gas, to secure our future,” Hawrami said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Obama administration have balked at Turkey's budding alliance with the Kurds, arguing that it could further destabilize Iraq.

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