As Kurdish militias seize two oil installations, al-Sistani calls for peace and unity
Oilfields in Kirkuk and Bai Hassan are seized. Although they have an output capacity of 450,000 barrels per day, they had not been producing significant quantities since March. Baghdad calls for their return and threatens retaliation. Kurdish bloc withdraws support for the central government. Grand ayatollah calls for unity and understanding for people regardless of faith or political belief.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Kurdish militias seized two northern Iraqi oil fields that belong to a state-owned company. Meanwhile in Baghdad, the Kurdish bloc withdrew its support from Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his government.

The push for further Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq is getting stronger, adding to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani's proposal to hold a referendum on independence in the oil-rich region.

Centrifugal trends are leading to the country's partition, as the central government tries to cope with the push from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, which now operates a s the militia of the Islamic caliphate.

The Kurdish forces took over production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields near Kirkuk yesterday, the oil ministry in Baghdad said. It called on the Kurds to withdraw immediately to avoid "dire consequences".

The two sites have a combined production capacity of 450,000 barrels per day, but have not been producing significant volumes since March when Baghdad's Kirkuk-Ceyhan export pipeline was sabotaged.

Relations between the Prime Minister al-Maliki and the Kurds have touched a new low this week when the former accused Kurdish leaders of providing logistical support to militia groups, including ISIS and the former Baath party linked to dictator Saddam Hussein.

In reaction to what they deem unfounded claims, the Kurdish political bloc yesterday announced it was withdrawing its support from the central government.

At a time of rising tensions- only verbal so far - between Shias and Kurds, Iraq's foremost Shia religious authority, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, has called on Iraqis to end their bickering and work for the common good.

In a statement released by his office in the holy city of Karbala, al-Sistani renewed his "call to close ranks, seek unity and refrain from making extremist speeches."

He called on the military and volunteers to "defend the rights of the people" and avoid harming "innocent civilians", regardless of their ethnicity, political belief or religious faith.