Iranian pipeline merely a pipe dream, Iraqis say

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad and Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo


Iranians work on a section of a gas pipeline linking Iran and Pakistan on March 11th, 2013. Recent reports indicate Iran would like to establish a similar pipeline between Iran and Syria, but Iraqi officials and analysts say the Iraqi government will not allow this idea to come to fruition. [Atta Kenare/AFP] 

Iraqi officials and analysts have dismissed as "unacceptable" reports that Iran has been seeking to extend an oil pipeline across Iraq to Syria in order to circumvent sanctions, saying the Iraqi government will never allow this.

According to recent media reports, Iran has been eyeing the prospect of extending an oil pipeline across Iraq to the Syrian port of Banias as a way to circumvent US sanctions that ban the sale of Iranian oil.

But Iraq would never approve such a project, Iraqi officials and analysts said.

"Without the Iraqi government’s consent it will not see the light of day," said Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Sami Gheit.

Enabling the flow of Iranian oil through Iraq would undoubtedly expose Iraq to the risk of sanctions, he told Al-Mashareq, noting that the Iraqi government "will not take this risk".

The idea of exporting Iranian oil via Iraq to Syria's Banias port has been floated, but not at the Iraqi parliament, Iraqi MP Salam al-Shammari told Al-Mashareq.

If such a proposal were sent to the parliament, he said, "it would receive no response, and no MP or parliamentary bloc would dare to approve it", describing it as akin to "giving up your own family's sustenance to someone else".

Iran seeks to export oil via Iraq to Syria by "using the existing Iraqi pipeline, which means that it would only construct the section that connects its soil to Iraq", al-Shammari said.

"This idea cannot be accepted," he stressed.

"It would harm Iraq," he said, noting that sanctions aside, "no country in the entire world" would invite competition from another country in its main business sector -- especially not one that provides a critical source of export revenue.

Most parliamentary blocs would reject the project from an economic perspective alone, he added.

Iran is trying to achieve the project indirectly via a patchwork of contracts, "but such projects can only pass through the parliament", al-Shammari said.

Iran's economic crisis

Iran is seeking alternative export avenues due to the prevailing tensions in the Gulf and the difficulty of smuggling oil aboard tanker ships, Gheit said.

The deficit within the country and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is prompting the Iranian regime to consider this project, Iranian affairs researcher Sheyar Turko told Al-Mashareq.

Turko noted that regional militias backed by the IRGC are facing an acute shortage of cash as a result of Iran's actions and the consequent sanctions, which is partly driving the pipeline idea.

He also noted that the route Iran is eying for a pipeline to Syria runs through the areas where Iran-backed militias have a presence on the ground.

The IRGC "continues to expand its presence" in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, which borders Iraq, with the apparent goal of gaining control of the entire region and securing any future Iranian projects, Turko said.

These projects might include the wished-for pipeline, he said, or a route for oil tanker trucks that smuggle crude oil to Syrian ports to be used in Syria or resold after it is smuggled into Lebanon.

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