AFP: Iranian soldiers took control of an Iraqi oil well on a disputed section of the border on Friday, triggering the ire of Baghdad which demanded their immediate withdrawal. By Prashant Rao
NASIRIYAH, Iraq (AFP) — Iranian soldiers took control of an Iraqi oil well on a disputed section of the border on Friday, triggering the ire of Baghdad which demanded their immediate withdrawal.
"Iraq demands that Tehran pulls back the armed men who occupied well No. 4… because what happened today is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told AFP.
An official of the state-owned South Oil Co in the southeastern city of Amara, west of the field, said earlier that "an Iranian force arrived at the field early this morning (Friday).
"It took control of Well 4 and raised the Iranian flag even though the well lies inside Iraqi territory," the official added.
Dabbagh said 11 Iranian soldiers were involved and added that the Baghdad government was demanding "that the men remove the flag," adding that the well had been drilled by Iraq in 1979.
"The Iraqi government rejects the use of force and has launched contacts with Iran in order to resolve this in a diplomatic way," Dabbagh said. "We now await Iran's reply."
Tehran's semi-official Mehr news agency, meanwhile, reported that the National Iranian Oil Company denied that border guards had seized a well in Iraq's Fauqa oilfield. It did not elaborate.
Dabbagh was speaking after an emergency meeting of the Iraqi national security council, a ministerial body chaired by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The council also groups the ministers of interior, defence, foreign affairs, justice and finance.
Dabbagh said the incident occurred in a border area where markers to delineate the frontier disappeared during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.
"Iraq rejects oil activity in this sector because the border is not really marked. That is why we call on the Iranian authorities to resolve border disputes and replace border markers," he said.
Earlier, a US military spokesman told AFP the incident was non-violent but the latest in a series of such activity along the frontier.
"The oilfield is in disputed territory in between Iranian and Iraqi border forts," said the officer at Contingency Operating Base Adder, just outside the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
Well 4 is in the Fauqa Field, part of a cluster of oilfields Iraq unsuccessfully put up for auction to oil majors in June. The field has estimated reserves of 1.55 million barrels.
It lies about 500 metres (yards) from an Iranian border fort and about one kilometre from an Iraqi border fort, US Colonel Peter Newell said.
But it falls on the Iraqi side of a border agreed between the two countries, he said, adding that there are five other fields in disputed territory.
"What happens is, periodically, about every three or four months, the oil ministry guys from Iraq will go… to fix something or do some maintenance. They'll paint it in Iraqi colours and throw an Iraqi flag up," Newell said.
"They'll hang out there for a while, until they get tired, and as soon as they go away, the Iranians come down the hill and paint it Iranian colours and raise an Iranian flag. It happened about three months ago and it will probably happen again."
He added that the Iraqis are "very concerned about the Iranians pulling oil out of fields underneath Iraq."