NPR logo

Flow Of Oil From Iraq To Iran Raises Concerns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Flow Of Oil From Iraq To Iran Raises Concerns


Flow Of Oil From Iraq To Iran Raises Concerns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Training Afghan forces is one challenge facing the new commander in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus has been on the job for more than a month now and he's about to launch a new offensive, this one with the media. On Sunday he is scheduled to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press," which is the first of several interviews in the next few days.

General Petraeus is expected to make the case that the military's counterinsurgency strategy is showing results but that people need to be patient.


The general made a similar argument when he was the top commander in Iraq. Back then he noted that there's a political clock ticking in Washington and it moves fast. Politicians want to bring the troops home. The clock in Afghanistan moves more slowly. It's the general's job to get the two clocks in sync.

INSKEEP: And our next story takes us to northern Iraq, where long lines of tanker trucks are carrying oil from the Kurdistan region across the border into Iran. The question is whether this amounts to smuggling and a violation of international sanctions against Iran.

NPR's Kelly McEvers recently traveled to the region.

KELLY MCEVERS: So we're standing here. We're minutes from the border - the Iran-Iraq border. Ahead of me, I can see what - how many trucks do you think we can see right now?

Mr. BADR RAMSI (Driver): Two or three hundred.

MCEVERS: Yeah. Two lines of them stretching all the way down the road, waiting to cross over into Iran, right?

Mr. RAMSI: To Iran, yes.

MCEVERS: Badr Ramsi's tanker has dark brown streaks down the side, like oil has been spilling over the sides as he rumbles up the mountain roads.

What's in the truck?

Mr. BADR RAMSI (Truck Driver): (Through translator) Black crude oil.

MCEVERS: And what's the plan, and where's he going with it?

Mr. RAMSI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Ramsi says he'll drive the crude oil across Iran. Other drivers say they're carrying refined products like gas and fuel oil. Most say they'll deliver their product to Iran's main ports. From there the drivers don't know whether the oil will be exported or used domestically.

Mr. RAMSI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Ramsi says he's working for a private company. And as far as he knows, it's all on the up and up.

It's 3:00, the border's opening, the trucks are going on their way.

(Soundbite of truck engines)

MCEVERS: There are two reasons why this scene has gotten so much attention lately. One, shipping gasoline and other refined oil products to Iran may violate new sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union. Two, the bulk of money from sales of oil products from Kurdistan is supposed go to the central government of Iraq, of which Kurdistan is still a part.

But critics like Abdullah Malla Nouri say high-ranking Kurdish officials have set up private companies to sell the region's oil and are keeping the money for themselves.

Mr. ABDULLAH MALLA NOURI: (Through translator) I don't have any living evidence who runs the company, but as I know, and all people know, that all these companies cannot operate, they cannot do business unless they are supported or back by the officials who belong to the local parties who are running the government.

MCEVERS: Malla Nouri is part of a new opposition group that's critical of the ruling parties in Kurdistan. A newspaper run by the opposition group was recently sued for one billion dollars for suggesting that officials are profiting from oil sales.

Kawa Mahmoud is a spokesman for the Kurdish Regional Government. He says the tanker trucks are full of surplus oil that the government sells to private companies who have every right to turn around and re-sell to the highest bidder. He says there could be a few bad actors in the oil trade, but they are not the majority.

Mr. KAWA MAHMOUD (Spokesman, Kurdish Regional Government): (Through translator) And of course there might be some violations here and here, but it doesn't represent the government policy, because there is a difference between violations here and there and a policy adopted by the government.

MCEVERS: This whole conflict is really just one small chapter in the larger story of how Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq share oil revenues. The central government of Iraq claims the sole right to develop the country's oil sector.

But the Kurdish region over the last several years has been signing deals with international companies to pump oil and refining that oil on its own. Until the two sides can sit down and look at all the oil projects in the region, it will be a long time before they can reach an agreement, says Ben Lando, the founder of the online news site Iraqi Oil Report.

Mr. BEN LANDO (Iraqi Oil Report): Across the entire country there is a major lack of transparency, and without knowing exactly how much oil is produced, exactly how much is going to which refineries, exactly what fuel these refineries are producing, and exactly what happens to that fuel when it leaves the refinery, you're not able to find out who is smuggling and what they're smuggling, and who is selling and what they're selling.

MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.