Oil exports from Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan to Turkey could start next month, the region's prime minister said, despite a dispute with Baghdad over how to divide the spoils from its energy resources.
Necirvan Barzani told reporters in Ankara late Tuesday that a pipeline from the Kurdish region could start carrying oil "before Christmas", without elaborating.
Barzani was due to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz on Wednesday for discussions about comprehensive energy deals between Ankara and Arbil.
The pipeline project to Turkey is projected to carry up to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd).
Turkey, which is dependent on Russia and Iran to meet its growing energy needs, is seeking to secure affordable oil and gas supplies from elsewhere, with Kurdistan seen as the best option.
But the move risks aggravating tensions in the powderkeg region and harming relations with the central government in Baghdad, which is in dispute with Kurdistan over the sharing of the region's energy wealth.
The Turkish government has been developing ties with Iraqi Kurdistan, and Erdogan held talks with Kurdish leader Massud Barzani in Turkey's own Kurdish dominated region earlier this month.
Ankara is however keen on restoring ties with Baghdad, which have been strained for several years, and has offered to mediate in the oil dispute.
A Baghdad-controlled oil pipeline currently runs between Kirkuk in Iraq and the southern Turkish port of Ceyhan but operates well below its capacity of 1.5 million tonnes a day, at around 400,000 tonnes.
In the initial phase, Ankara wants to boost the capacity of the existing pipeline and also add additional oil and gas pipelines along the route.
Iraqi Kurdistan has been shipping oil to Turkey by tanker for almost a year.