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Iraq's Kurdish region starts exporting crude oil through Turkey without Baghdad approval

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BAGHDAD - Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region on Thursday started exporting crude oil to the international market through the Turkish port of Ceyhan despite objections from the central government in Baghdad, Turkey's energy minister said.

The Iraqi government insists it has the sole right to develop and market the country's natural resources. Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Kurds and Arab-led central government in Baghdad have been at loggerheads over rights to develop resources.

Baghdad says only the central government may draw plans, award deals to developers and export crude on the international market, while the Kurds argue that the constitution allows their regional government to do so as well.

The Kurds have signed more than 50 deals with Western oil companies without Baghdad's consent. Since early January, they started pumping crude oil through a separate pipeline that goes to through Turkey, bypassing a Baghdad-controlled one.

"The shipment of northern Iraqi oil waiting at Ceyhan to international markets has started," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency. "The loading of one million barrels of oil is continuing," Yoldiz added without naming the buyer.

Baghdad has warned that it will deprive the Kurds of their 17 per cent share in the national budget if they go ahead with the exports without the government's approval and will sue the buyers. Officials in Baghdad were not immediately available to comment.

The latest development could add to the already souring relations between the Kurds and Baghdad at a time of starting negotiations to form a new government after the April 30 national elections. The country's Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, emerged the biggest winner, securing 92 seats in the 328-member parliament.

Also Thursday, Iraq's Oil Ministry said crude exports averaged 2.51 million barrels a day in April, a nearly 6 per cent increase from the previous month.

In a statement on its website, the ministry said April's revenues stood at $7.582 billion, based on an average price of $100.691 per barrel. March's oil exports averaged 2.37 million barrels a day, bringing that month's revenues to $7,507 billion.

The ministry said a major pipeline — not the Kurdish-pumped one but the one under Baghdad's control that is also north-bound — remains idle because of "terrorists attacks."

The pipeline also goes to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, pumping 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day, but traverses Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq and has been a favourite target for militants.

Iraq holds the world's fourth largest oil reserves, some 143.1 billion barrels. Oil revenues make up nearly 95 per cent of Iraq's budget.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.

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Follow Sinan Salaheddin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sinansm

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