Middle East

Iraqi Kurdistan starts oil pumping from Kirkuk

Civilians inspect the site of a bomb attack in Shorja Market in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, July 17, 2014.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

DUBAI: Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region has begun to pump oil from Kirkuk fields previously controlled by Iraq’s central government into the pipeline system that runs in its own territory, a senior Iraqi oil official said Thursday.

Kirkuk lies on the disputed boundary between the northern Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq and is at the heart of a long-running dispute between Baghdad and Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, over territory and natural resources.

Kurdish forces took control of production facilities at the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan northern fields on July 11, exploiting a power vacuum created by an Iraqi military withdrawal in the face of an Islamist insurgent offensive.

The Iraqi official told Reuters by telephone from Baghdad the Kurdish region had started to pump crude from one of the Kirkuk domes to the Khurmala dome, out of which the Kurdish pipeline runs, using an existing connection.

“They are using a pipeline which was originally used to send crude from [Kurdistan], but they have now reversed it [to use it by the Kurdish region],” the official said, estimating the quantity at around 20,000-25,000 barrels of oil per day.

The Kurdish Natural Resources Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kirkuk’s Baba and Avana geological formations were previously administered by Baghdad before the July 11 takeover. The Kirkuk region’s third formation, Khurmala, has long been under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk a month ago, making good on a longtime territorial claim to the city, after Iraqi troops left in the face of a lightning assault led by ISIS militants, who have seized large parts of northern and western Iraq, but not threatened well-defended Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oil fields have a combined production capacity of 450,000 bpd but have not been producing significant volumes since March, when Iraq’s Kirkuk-Ceyhan export pipeline was sabotaged by Islamist militants.

Elsewhere, two bomb attacks, one of which ripped through a sprawling Baghdad market, killed at least 12 people, officials said.

The first attack struck Baghdad’s Shorja Market, an open air emporium that is one of the most popular places for residents to buy foodstuffs, clothes and electronics. Over the past decade, it has been a frequent target for bombings.

A police officer said a bomb hidden on a wooden cart exploded near a Shiite mosque in the market, killing at least five people and wounding 21, a police officer said. A medical official in Baghdad confirmed the casualty figures.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the blast. In a statement posted on a militant website frequently used by the group, it said that the attack was a suicide bombing carried out by a non-Arab man with the nom de guerre of Abu Bakr al-Australi.

Military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said an initial investigation indicated the explosion was indeed a suicide attack and not a roadside bomb.

Shopkeepers in the market appeared to support that statement. They reported seeing a suspicious man trying to get into the mosque right before the explosion occurred. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

In the town of Taji, some 20 kms north of the capital, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a military checkpoint, killing four soldiers and three civilians, a police officer said. Thirteen people were wounded.

A medical official in a hospital in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah confirmed the casualty figures.

All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

In the north, Iraqi security forces backed by aircraft repelled an insurgent attack on a Shiite Turkmen town, killing 15 militants, a local official said.

The attack by ISIS insurgents and allied Sunni Islamist extremists on the town of Amirli took place Wednesday, said Talib al-Bayati, an official from nearby Suleiman Beik.

“Iraqi forces, with the help of military aircraft, repelled an attack on Amirli on three sides and killed 15 gunmen, according to an initial toll,” Bayati said.

Amirli lies to the south of Suleiman Beik, which fell to the ISIS-led onslaught last month.

In Iraq’s north, the commander of Kurdish peshmerga forces in the city of Kirkuk was wounded along with six bodyguards in clashes with ISIS gunmen that broke out Wednesday.

Two peshmerga were killed and 20 ISIS militants, a senior security source said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 18, 2014, on page 8.




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