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Tensions flare as Kurds claim control of disputed northern oilfields in Iraq

The move has put strain on the frayed relationship between Iraqi and Kurdish leaders.

Kurdish security forces take positions at Taza district, south of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, pictured here last month.
Kurdish security forces take positions at Taza district, south of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, pictured here last month.
Image: AP Photo/Emad Matti

IRAQ’S AUTONOMOUS KURDISH region claimed control of disputed northern oilfields Friday, a move sharply condemned by Baghdad as relations between the two sides hit a new low.

The move by Kurdistan, which said it plans to make use of production from the fields, marks an escalation of tensions that have already cast a pall over efforts to form a national unity government to counter a raging Sunni militant insurgency.

“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.

“Shortage”

“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.

Mideast Iraq Kurdish Hopes Source: AP Photo

The later statement from the Kurdish regional government did not specify whether or not peshmerga were among those involved.

The federal oil ministry slammed the move, warning “the Kurdistan region of the danger of this irresponsible behaviour which violates the constitution and the national wealth, and disregards the federal authorities and threatens national unity”.

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.

“Hysterical”

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.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Mass grave of 53 men, tied up and executed, found in Iraq >

More: While chaos reigns in Iraq, the Kurds want to form an independent state >

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