AFP: Iranian troops who for three days controversially occupied a disputed border oil well left the facility during the night but remain on Iraqi soil, Iraq's government spokesman said Sunday. By Fadel Mouchatat
AMARA, Iraq (AFP) — Iranian troops who for three days controversially occupied a disputed border oil well left the facility during the night but remain on Iraqi soil, Iraq's government spokesman said Sunday.
"The Iranian forces have pulled back 50 metres from the well and have taken their flag but we now demand they return to where they have come from and that negotiations begin on the demarcation of the border," said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
The facility, known as Well 4, lies in disputed territory about 100 metres (yards) from the Iranian border, according to Iraqi officials. Iran says the well falls within its borders.
Earlier, Mayssam Lafta, chief of security and defence of Iraq's Maysan province where the well is situated, said the Iranian troops had departed from the facility.
"The Iranian troops left overnight and the workers of the oil company returned to the well on Sunday," he said.
On Friday, Iraq's state-owned South Oil Co in the southeastern city of Amara, capital of Maysan province, said that about a dozen Iranian troops and technicians had arrived at the field, taken control of the Well 4 and raised the Iranian flag.
It was the first serious incident between the two neighbours since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, whose forces fought a 1980-1988 war against Iran.
Many leaders of Shiite parties who were exiled to Iran during the Saddam era are now in power in Baghdad.
Baghdad had demanded that "Tehran pull back the armed men who occupied Well No 4" and condemned the incident as "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty."
Iran rejected allegations it had occupied an Iraqi oil well, saying the facility lies within its borders.
"Our forces are on our own soil and, based on the known international borders, this well belongs to Iran," Iran's armed forces command said in a statement, quoted by Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam satellite television.
In Baghdad, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hajj Hamud told AFP on Saturday that Baghdad had protested to Tehran over the incident.
"We summoned Iran's ambassador to Baghdad … to tell him that this attack is unacceptable and our ambassador to Tehran delivered a note to their foreign ministry to ask them to pull out their troops," he said.
Hamud said it was the first time Well 4 had been taken over. "In the past, the Iranians would try to prevent our technicians from working on the well … by firing in their direction," he said, adding Iraq had dug the well in 1974.
The Iraqi official said the incident came a month before a joint commission starts work on demarcating the two countries' land and sea border along the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the south.
Well 4 is in the Fauqa Field, part of a cluster of oilfields which Iraq unsuccessfully put up for auction to oil majors in June. The field has estimated reserves of 1.55 million barrels.
"It's a sovereignty issue" which has to be resolved by Iraqi leaders, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, told reporters during a visit to Baghdad.