STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
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?
BADR RAMSI: Two or three hundred.
MCEVERS: Yeah. Two lines of them stretching all the way down the road, waiting to cross over into Iran, right?
RAMSI: To Iran, yes.
MCEVERS: What's in the truck?
RAMSI: (Through translator) Black crude oil.
MCEVERS: And what's the plan, and where's he going with it?
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.
RAMSI: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: It's 3:00, the border's opening, the trucks are going on their way.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK ENGINES)
MCEVERS: 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.
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: 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.
KAWA MAHMOUD: (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: 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.
BEN LANDO: 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.
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