The Kurds had held the Bay Hassan and Havana fields since 2014. Together they produced 250,000 barrels a day, providing Kurdistan 40 per cent of its oil exports. As Turkey backs Iraq the US calls for calm and dialogue. For Kurdish experts, voters in the referendum were "fooled by false promises".
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - This morning, Iraqi troops took control of two major oil fields in the Kirkuk area, after days of a bitter standoff between Erbil and Baghdad.
According to Iraq’s federal police, soldiers occupied the area after Kurdish forces pulled out without a fight, temporarily easing fears of a new conflict between the autonomous region and the central government.
In a statement, Iraqi security forces said that "federal police units have taken over the oil fields of Bay Hassan and Havana," north of Kirkuk.
The evening before, Kurdish technicians stopped pumping oil and left the area before the arrival of Iraqi soldiers.
Kurdish troops (Peshmerga) had seized these two strategically important sites in 2014, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the collapse of Iraqi army under the attacks of Islamic State (IS) group. In the summer of 2014, IS forces had seized Mosul and much of the Nineveh Plain, encountering only Kurdish troops who tried to hold them back.
The Bay Hassan and Havana fields produce 250,000 barrels of oil a day. Since 2014, they were administered by the Resources Ministry of the Kurdistan Autonomous Government and had a strategic role in its finances.
Presently, Kurdistan is facing the worst economic crisis in its history. The loss of these two fields could be a hard blow since they represented up to 40 per cent of the region’s total oil exports.
Worried about its interests in the region, the United States has repeatedly called for “calm” on both sides. However, Iraq’s central government seems prepared to continue its offensive, which has enabled it take control of Kirkuk control and some key installations hitherto held by in the Kurds.
Meanwhile, reports say a militia backed by the Baghdad government has taken control of the town of Sinjar in the north-western Nineveh province. The takeover happened without violence after Kurdish Peshmerga withdrew from the area.
State department spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged all parties to "avoid further clashes".
For his part, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi brushed aside such concerns and said in a statement that the operation in Kirkuk was necessary to "protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition" because of the referendum.
"We call upon all citizens to co-operate with our heroic armed forces, which are committed to our strict directives to protect civilians in the first place, and to impose security and order," he added.
On 25 September, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq held a referendum, which ended with a overwhelming victory for independence (more than 90 per cent of yes). The poll was also held in the disputed area of Kirkuk as well.
Baghdad said the referendum was unconstitutional in spite of regional and international opposition, with the exception of Israel.
Turkey backs Iraq, saying that it was "ready for any form of co-operation with the Iraqi government in order to end the PKK presence in Iraqi territory". Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organisation.
A bomb recently exploded in norther Iraq killing two Turkish soldiers, and wounding others. Turkish planes responded hitting PKK positions in the area.
The Kurdish question remains open and seems to get stronger each day, raising concerns among the region’s and Western governments.
Although officially part of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan has had its own parliament, government, president, anthem, flag, military and police forces for more than a quarter of a century.
Today, two Kurdish experts penned an article in French daily Le Monde, noting how the Kurdish region’s current political regime resembles more the Gulf region’s authoritarian monarchies than Israel, the only Mideast state supporting the pro-independence referendum.
For Mariwan Kanie and Aras Fatah, voters who took part in the 25 September referendum were fooled “by false promises" made by Kurdish leaders over the years. Any comparison between Kurds and Israelis is "wrong and anti-historical," as the Kurdish people are more like the "Armenians and the Palestinians."
For them, “the Kurds need great friends, not great propagandists” in the Middle East and the rest of the world.