Kurds seize oilfields, ministers pull out of Maliki government

July 12, 2014 - 1:46:28 am

baghdad: Kurdish forces seized two oilfields in northern Iraq and took over operations from a state-run oil company yesterday, while Kurdish politicians formally suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s government.

The moves escalated a feud between the Shia-led central government and the autonomous Kurdish region driven by a Sunni insurgency which threatens to fragment Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines three years after the withdrawal of US troops.

The Kurdish forces took over production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields near the city of Kirkuk, the oil ministry in Baghdad said. It called on the Kurds to withdraw immediately to avoid “dire consequences”.

Kurdish forces took control of nearby Kirkuk a month ago after Iraqi troops withdrew in the face of a lightning assault by Islamic State militants, who have seized large parts of northern and western Iraq. The two oilfields have a combined production capacity of 450,000 barrels per day but have not been producing significant volumes since March when Baghdad’s Kirkuk-Ceyhan export pipeline was sabotaged.

An oil ministry spokesman in Baghdad described the takeover as dangerous and irresponsible.

Kurdish authorities said they had moved to “secure the oilfields of Bai Hassan and the Makhmour area” of the giant Kirkuk oilfield after hearing that the oil ministry planned to disrupt a pipeline designed to pump oil from Makhmour.

The Baghdad ministry’s spokesman Jihad rejected Kurdish assertions that they had acted to protect oil infrastructure, saying the ministry had worked to raise output at the fields and increase investment in local gasoline production.

“The ministry rejects their irresponsible accusations as these workers are doing their best in order to supply the gasoline,” he said. “Such a statement is ridiculous.”

The relationship hit a new low this week when Maliki accused the Kurds of allowing their capital to be used as a base for the Islamic State and others, including former members of Saddam Hussein’s now-banned Baath Party.

In protest against the accusation, the Kurdish political bloc announced they were suspending their participation in the Baghdad government. Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said the Kurds would continue to attend parliament.

Zebari, who is a Kurd, said Iraq risked falling apart if a new inclusive government is not formed soon as “the country is now divided literally into three states - “Kurdish, a black state (ISIL) and Baghdad”.  Unless Iraqi leaders rose to the challenge “the consequences are very dire: complete fragmentation and failure” of the country, he said. Zebari said the suspension decision would be re-evaluated if Maliki apologised for his comments.

After the announcement, Maliki appointed Hussain Al Shahristani, the deputy prime minister, as acting foreign minister, an official in Shahristani’s office said.Reuters