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Iraq forces take oil fields, dashing Kurdish dreams
By Ahmad al-Rubaye with Sammy Ketz in Baghdad
Bai Hassan, Iraq (AFP) Oct 18, 2017

Kurdish party says Iraqi forces seized the oil fields in Kirkuk
Washington (UPI) Oct 17, 2017 - Iraqi military forces operating in the northern restive provinces have taken control over the oil fields in Kirkuk, a Kurdish political party confirmed.

Kurdish military forces backed out of the northern city of Sinjar after a confrontation with paramilitary forces loyal to the federal government in Baghdad. The city is included in territories of dispute between the semiautonomous Kurdish government and the federal government in Baghdad. Disputed territories run north from a line stretching from Khanaqin along the eastern border with Iran to Sinjar, near the border with Syria.

The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State was driven out of Sinjar two years ago and the Iraqi government is working on a broader reconstruction campaign following regional liberation. Fighting escalated during the weekend between Iraqi and Kurdish military forces, weeks after a controversial Kurdish referendum for independence.

According to the media arm of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a political party, Iraqi military forces have seized control over the oil in Kirkuk, power plants and other industrial facilities.

"The control over the gas facility of the Northern Gas Company, the police center, the Kirkuk power station, the filter station near the gas facility, and the units continue to move forward," a statement attributed to Iraqi military forces read.

Tensions in northern Iraq have added a risk premium to the price of crude oil. While most of the Iraqi reserves are in the south of the country, hundreds of thousands of barrels move each day north to a Turkish port facility on the Mediterranean Sea.

Iraqi and Kurdish skirmishes pre-date the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, thought the PUK's report said both sides were trying to avoid casualties.

"We assure our people in Kurdistan and Kirkuk that we protect their security and interests and fulfilled only the constitutional duty to spread federal authority, establish security and protect national wealth in the city," a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi read.

There are no indications that oil operations inside formal Kurdish territory have been interrupted. Norwegian oil and gas company DNO said Monday it received $4 million from the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. The payment was the first under the terms of an Aug. 1 agreement that assigned DNO a greater stake in the Tawke oil field as well as 3 percent of revenues payable monthly for the next five years.

Iraqi forces Wednesday appeared poised to take full control of the oil fields in the disputed northern province of Kirkuk, dashing Kurdish hopes of creating a viable independent state.

Kurdish peshmerga forces withdrew without a fight after federal government troops and militia entered the city of Kirkuk and seized the provincial governor's office and key military bases in response to a Kurdish vote for independence last month.

The oil fields taken Tuesday accounted for more than 400,000 of the 650,000 barrels per day that the autonomous Kurdish region used to export in defiance of Baghdad.

Their loss deals a huge blow to its already dire finances and its dreams of economic self-sufficiency.

On Tuesday morning, Iraqi forces took down the Kurdish flags that had flown over the pumping stations of the Bai Hassan and Havana oil fields and raised the national flag, an AFP photographer said.

Kurdish technicians had halted production and fled on Monday evening as pro-government forces approached.

The last Kirkuk oil field still in Kurdish hands is the smaller Khurmala field, south of Arbil, which produces around 10,000 barrels per day.

Oil exports through Turkey -- both from Kirkuk and from within the Kurdish autonomous region -- make up a major portion of the autonomous Kurdish government's revenues.

Baghdad views them as a breach of the constitution, under which they are a federal responsibility.

- 'End of the dream' -

The autonomous Kurdish region is suffering a crushing economic crisis after Baghdad severed its air links with the outside world and neighbouring Iran closed its border to petrochemical exports.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday the independence poll was now "a thing of the past".

"Central authority must be imposed everywhere in Iraq," he told a press conference. "I want to be fair with all citizens."

Iraqi President Fuad Masum blamed the independence poll for triggering Baghdad's operation.

"Holding a referendum on the Kurdistan region's independence from Iraq stirred grave disagreements between the central government and the government of Kurdistan," Masum, himself Kurdish, said in a televised address Tuesday.

That "led to federal security forces retaking direct control of Kirkuk," he said.

Global crude prices rose further early Wednesday on investor fears of output disruptions.

French geographer and Kurdistan specialist Cyril Roussel said the loss of the oil fields had slashed Kurdish finances by half.

"It spells the end of Kurdistan's economic self-sufficiency and of the dream of independence," he said.

He said that without the revenues from Kirkuk oil, the autonomous region would never have embarked on the September 25 poll in which Kurds overwhelmingly backed independence.

"It was only after the annexation of the two Kirkuk fields in July 2014 that Kurdish president Massud Barzani started to talk of independence. Before, he spoke only of autonomy," Roussel said.

Kirkuk lies outside the autonomous region but is one of a string of historically Kurdish-majority territories that the Kurds aim to control, against the wishes of Baghdad.

Kurdish forces seized many such areas in 2014 when Iraqi army units disintegrated in the face of the jihadists' lightning advance.

- Yazidi massacre town falls -

But since entering Kirkuk city on Monday, government forces have advanced on those areas one by one.

Market trader Hassan Mohammed, from Sulaimaniyah, said he had "never felt so full of despair".

"The history of the Kurds in Iraq is full of setbacks, Kirkuk is a new one, a huge one," the 52-year-old said.

On Tuesday, troops and militia entered the Yazidi Kurdish town of Sinjar after peshmerga forces withdrew without a fight, the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force said.

Sinjar was the site of one of the Islamic State group's worst atrocities in August 2014, when it killed thousands of Yazidi men and abducted thousands of women and girls as sex slaves, helping trigger the US intervention against the jihadists.

Abadi on Tuesday evening said Iraqi troops had retaken control of a major dam north of the second city Mosul, and of the Makhmur area, which the Kurds claim as part of their autonomous region.

- 'Betrayal' -

Kurdish forces captured Sinjar from IS in 2015 and the town's loss is a symbolic blow for Barzani.

Ten peshmerga fighters were killed as they exchanged artillery fire with the army before it entered Kirkuk on Monday, but otherwise the Iraqi advance has been largely bloodless.

That was helped by a sharp division within Kurdish ranks over last month's independence poll.

Peshmerga forces loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, historic rival of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, withdrew under an agreement with Baghdad, officials said.

The KDP accused the PUK of "betrayal".

But KDP forces also withdrew without a fight, abandoning Sinjar and the two Kirkuk oil fields.

On Tuesday, as it became clear that the feared bloodshed was not going to materialise, hundreds of families from among the tens of thousands of Kurdish residents who had fled Kirkuk city began to return to their homes, security sources said.

More drilling expected in the North Sea; No disruptions from Ophelia
Washington (UPI) Oct 16, 2017
The Norwegian government said Monday it signed off on new plans for oil drilling and exploration work in the national waters of the North Sea. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate said it gave Statoil approval to drill an exploration well in the shallow waters of North Sea. Drilling starts in November and will run for about 99 days, depending on whether or not the company makes a discove ... read more

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