Baghdad warns Kurds not to cut oil flow after KRG halts crude production
The Iraqi government has warned the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) not to take any measure that would cause a crude oil flow disruption from Kirkuk oil fields as Kurdish authorities reportedly shut down some 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of production from two major fields in northern Iraq.
Earlier on Monday, reports said that the KRG had halted oil production from major fields, Bai Hassan and Avana, due to security concerns after a rise in tensions with the central government, prompting Baghdad to issue a stern warning to the Kurdish leaders to stop disrupting the oil flow from the oil fields.
Shortly after Baghdad’s warning, Ashti Hawrami, the KRG’s minister of natural resources, ordered oil production to be resumed at the pair of oil fields following the brief interruption.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Iraq’s North Oil Company said, “We received signals from them (Kurdish officials) that they will shut down production operations in Kirkuk oil fields for security reasons, but we understand that this is only a pretext to put pressure on Baghdad.”
The developments came as the Iraqi forces took control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Monday, removed Kurdish flags from top of the government buildings and replaced them with the Iraqi flag.
A senior Baghdad oil official said, “We’ve got confirmation from military commanders that it’s a matter of a very short time. Our brave forces will regain control of all Kirkuk oil fields and then we will restart production immediately.”
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said that Iraqi forces had managed to seize the Baba Gargar oil field, one of six major oil fields in the disputed Kirkuk region, from the Kurdish fighters.
Kurdish leaders have coveted Kirkuk with some 10 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves for long and described it as part of their territory even as roughly two-thirds of the city’s population is non-Kurd.
Kirkuk is not one of the three provinces that have made up the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region since 2003. However, Kurdish militants used a vacuum created when government troops were fighting against Daesh terrorists to overtake city of Kirkuk.
Tensions flared up between Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad after the KRG held a highly controversial plebiscite on independence. The referendum was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.
Following the vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales.