Revealed: the dodgy report on Iran-Iraq oil theft

International Centre for Development Studies not all it seems

Oil smuggling in Baghdad, 2005. Is the 'International Centre for Development Studies' an authority on the subject? GETTY IMAGES
Oil smuggling in Baghdad, 2005. Is the 'International Centre for Development Studies' an authority on the subject? GETTY IMAGES

Oil & Gas Middle East has learned that a sensational report from the International Centre for Development Studies on alleged theft of huge quantities of Iraq’s oil by Iran is unreliable and may be part of a scheme designed to obtain thousands of dollars for valueless or non-existent business intelligence.

Al Arabiya has led coverage in Arabic media of the report, which has been widely disseminated via Twitter. Oil & Gas Middle East has learned that the article is a translated press release from the International Centre for Development Studies and the report itself - if it exists - has not been disclosed.

Accord to the company’s website, “ICDS was founded in 2009 in the UK by a number of individuals interested in promoting policies and practices which lead to the reduction of poverty and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.”

“ICDS worked hard to provide the best information and analysis to government leaders, business people and analysts,” the website continues.

Oil & Gas Middle East has discovered that the “London-based International Centre for Development Studies,” which bills itself as an “independent think tank on international development issues,” has its headquarters in residential premises on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban North London, and is the trading name of a small for-profit UK company which is in the process of being struck off.

The ICDS’s central assertions in the report are that Iran has been stealing Iraq’s oil at a rate of 130,000 barrels a day (bpd) from oil fields which straddle the Iran-Iraq border, and a further 250,000 bpd from fields at al-Tayeb, Fakka and Majnoon, depriving the Iraqi government of billions of dollars of natural resources.

If true, the report reveals a sensational quantity of oil theft by Iran. Before the ICDS report, the highest estimate of oil theft from Iraq to Iran was estimated by US firm Stratfor at 10% of Basra’s production only, reckoned by Stratfor to total some $7.3 billion a year. Experts are sceptical.

"This issue has been discussed in Iraq with Iran and progress has been rather slow but I can say for sure that "theft" at this scale is very unlikely," says Shwan Zulal, a Kurdish political and security analyst.

"Iran is not even close to producing at capacity from its own extensions (Yadavaran and Azadegan) so the idea they're siphoning 250,000 bpd across the border is crazy," says Robin Mills, head of consulting at Manaar Energy Consulting. "There is no unitisation agreement," he says, referring to the means by which two parties agree to share oilfields which cross borders. "You could equally say that some of its Gulf neighbours are siphoning Iranian oil and gas."

Unable to locate a copy of the full report on ICDS’s website, Oil & Gas Middle East contacted ICDS to obtain a copy. Dr. Sadek Al-Rikaby, touted as the CEO of ICDS and an “economic and political analyst specializing in Middle East issues,” responded via a Hotmail account that this required paying a membership fee of $400 – as discount from the standard corporate rate of $700 – plus “$1,000-$1,500” to obtain the report.

The membership section of the ICDS website asks for an up-front membership fee of £200 to an account in the name of Easy Digital Solutions Ltd, together with “a full CV/Resume to include personal details, education and employment/career history.”

The situation is unusual, and strongly suggests ICDS is a different kind of business to that which it’s name and promotional spiel suggests. Think-tanks are usually supported by donors to provide information free of charge to influence opinion and inform policy. Think-tanks or research bodies typically do not ask for large up-front charges for the media to cover their output.

Easy Digital Solutions Ltd is registered to a residential address in Kingsbury, North London. Company records list Haydar Al-Rakabi as sole company director and shareholder. Sadek Al-Rikaby is not listed as a director.

The summary of the report includes several errors, discrepancies and inconsistencies. The ‘stealing’ of Iraq oil is poorly defined, the Dehloran and Naft Shahr fields mentioned in the summary are within Iran, not Iraq, and it is unclear by what methods Iran is supposed to be stealing such large quantities of oil without intervention or complaint from the Iraqi government.

The summary also contains criticisms of Iraqi oil policy unrelated to the issue of alleged Iranian oil theft.

Oil & Gas Middle East put a series of technical questions to Sadek Al-Rikaby in order to make sense of the report summary. At the time of publication, Sadek Al-Rikaby had not responded to questions or a request for comment.

Easy Digital Solutions Ltd is in the process of being removed from the UK company register at Haydar Al-Rakabi’s request, during which time it is unlawful for the company to continue trading. The latest company accounts record only £2 of initial share capital.

Oil theft from Iraq to Iran has been previously reported, and there are ongoing problems with the production monitoring of Iraq’s oil. Oil & Gas Middle East leaves it to readers to judge whether the report from International Centre for Development Studies is worth the money.

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