Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said on Friday that its forces have seized two oilfields in northern Iraq and took over operations from a state-run oil company, a move sharply condemned by Baghdad as relations between the two sides hit a new low.
The Kurdish forces took over production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields near Kirkuk, according to the oil ministry in Baghdad.
“Members of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Kirkuk Oil Protection Forces moved to secure the oilfields of Bai Hassan and the Makhmour area,” the region's government said in a statement.
“Production at the new fields under KRG control will be used primarily to fill the shortage of refined products in the domestic market,” it said, adding that staff from the federal North Oil Company could either cooperate with new management or leave.
Kurdistan said the move was in response to a plan by the federal oil ministry to have employees sabotage a new pipeline from the area.
Earlier, a spokesman from the ministry responsible for the Kurdish peshmerga security forces said its troops had “not approached the oilfields in Kirkuk” province.
Iraq’s oil ministry 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 north and west 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, according to Reuters.
Natural resources are one of many issues over which Kurdistan and Baghdad disagree, with the region signing energy contracts with foreign firms and exporting oil, while the federal government insists that such actions are exclusively its purview.
The oilfields row comes during the latest of many flareups between the Kurdish region and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The Kurds on Thursday said Maliki was “hysterical” and not fit to run Iraq, after he accused them of harbouring militants in territory they control.
Iraqi lawmakers are due to meet on Sunday for a parliamentary session meant to revive flagging efforts to form a new government.
The only other time parliament has met since April polls ended with MPs exchanging heckles and others walking out.
Kurdish troops moved into disputed areas vacated by federal forces that failed to stop a Sunni militant onslaught that began on June 9.
The Kurds have since said those swathes of land were theirs to keep, and announced plans to hold a referendum on independence.
(With AFP and Reuters)