The Kurdistan Regional Government has confirmed it took control of North Oil Company-operated oilfields in northern Iraq including Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Makmour to prevent alleged pipeline sabotage it claimed had been ordered by Baghdad.
The administration of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq confirmed it took over the fields “after learning of orders by officials in the federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad to sabotage the recent mutually-agreed pipeline infrastructure linking the Avana dome with the Khurmala field”.
The Erbil-based Ministry of Natural Resources said the fields were “safely under KRG management” with the assistance of the Kirkuk Oil Protection Force and expected to continue operating as normally.
“Staff at NOC that previously operated these fields have been informed that from tomorrow they will be expected to cooperate with KRG management. Those who do not want to do so can leave,” the KRG ministry said.
The national oil ministry in Baghdad condemned the takeover at Kirkuk and called on the Kurds to withdraw immediately to avoid "dire consequences", according to Reuters reports.
The new pipeline linking Khurmala with Avana was designed and built to facilitate export from the Makhmour, Avana and Kirkuk area fields through the KRG pipeline network, and was funded by the KRG in co-operation with officials from NOC.
The KRG pointed out that the exports would “help increase revenues for Iraqis at a time of great need and at a time when most of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline is under ISIS control”.
The Avana and Makhmour fields have been unable to export since March because the main Iraq-Turkey pipeline has been damaged by terrorist attacks.
The KRG accused Baghdad of re-injecting oil produced from the fields into a disused field in Kirkuk rather than use its new pipeline, causing most of the oil to be lost and damaging the field.
Erbil said it planned to "claim its constitutional share of oil revenues derived from these fields to make up for the huge financial deficit triggered by the illegal withholding of the KRG’s 17% share of the federal budget by Baghdad".
Both the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oilfields' volumes are delivered to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, whose sections within Iraq are a frequent target of sabotage.
ISIS has been seizing control of key towns and cities in Iraq, including much of the territory where the pipeline runs.