Sunday, December 20, 2009

US Threatens Iran Over Disputed Oil Fields on Border With Occupied Iraq

Sunday, December 20, 2009
01:55 Mecca time, 22:55 GMT

Iraq sends forces to disputed field

Ownership of the al-Fauqa oil fields has been disputed since the wells were built in 1974

Iraq has deployed security forces to its southern border with Iran to monitor a disputed oil well seized by Iranian troops.

Iraqi authorities sent army and police forces to a staging ground about 1km from the well in the Fauqa oil field in southern Maysan province on Saturday, The Associated Press news agency reported, citing officials.

Baghdad says Iranian troops crossed the border into Iraqi territory a day earlier, taking control of well Number 4 and raising an Iranian flag.

The Iraqi government demanded that "Tehran pull back the armed men who occupied well Number 4", and condemned the incident as "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty".

But Iran has denied that it had violated Iraq's sovereignty.

Iran's Armed Forces Command issued a statement on Saturday making clear that, in Tehran's view, there had been no incursion into Iraq as the oil well is within Iranian borders.

"Our forces are on our own soil and, based on the known international borders, this well belongs to Iran," the statement said.

Well 4 is in the al-Fauqa Field, part of a cluster of oilfields which Iraq unsuccessfully put up for auction to oil majors in June. The field has estimated reserves of 1.55 million barrels.

Incursion denied

Ramin Mehmanparast, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, accused "external sources in Iraq" of working to damage relations between the governments in Tehran and Baghdad, the official IRNA news agency reported.

And a senior Iranian MP also tried to play down the dispute.

"The claim that Iran has occupied an Iraqi oil well is strongly rejected," Alaeddin Borujerdi, head of parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, told IRNA.

The issue was "being examined through diplomatic channels," he said, blaming "foreign media for such propaganda."

But Muhammad al-Hajj Hamud, Iraq's deputy foreign minister, rejected Iranian claims on the well and called for an Iranian unit made up of around a dozen soldiers and technicians to be withdrawn.

"We summoned Iran's ambassador to Baghdad [on Friday] to tell him that this attack is unacceptable and our ambassador to Tehran delivered a note to their foreign ministry to ask them to pull out their troops," he said.

Hamud said it was the first time Well 4 had been taken over.

"In the past, the Iranians would try to prevent our technicians from working on the well ... by firing in their direction," he said, adding Iraq had dug the well in 1974.

'Sovereignty issue'

The Iraqi official said the incident comes a month before a joint commission starts work on demarcating the two countries' land and sea border along the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the south.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Baghdad that as far as Washington was concerned "it's a sovereignty issue", adding that there were five other fields under dispute.

And in southern Iraq, a US military spokesman told AFP that the incident at Well 4 was the latest in a series of such activity along the frontier.

"The oilfield is in disputed territory between Iranian and Iraqi border forts," said the officer at Contingency Operating Base Adder, just outside the city of Nasiriyah.

The well lies about 500 metres from an Iranian border fort and about one kilometre from an Iraqi border fort, US Colonel Peter Newell said.

Source: Agencies

US alarm at Iran's Iraq incursion

America's top military officer has voiced concern about an incursion by Iran into Iraq that ended with Iranian soldiers seizing an Iraqi oil well.

Admiral Mike Mullen said he had spoken to Iraq's defence minister, but it was for leaders in Tehran and Baghdad to resolve the dispute.

Officials from both countries have said they want a diplomatic solution.

The Iranian troops are now believed to have now left the Fakkah oil field, which is close to the Iranian border.

Similar incidents have happened before along the border, which has never been properly defined since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s - although relations between the two neighbours are now cordial.

'No military escalation'

The Iraqis said about a dozen Iranian soldiers had been involved in the incursion and that they had raised the Iranian flag over the oil field.

According to General Ray Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, the Iranian forces had left the oil well as of Saturday morning, reports AP news agency.

"All of us are concerned about the influence of Iran," Adm Mullen told a news conference in Baghdad.

"I worry a great deal about Iran's view of destabilising this region as well and specifically… focusing on an oil field."

He continued: "But my understanding is this is sovereign Iraqi territory and is something for leaders in Iraq to resolve."

Earlier, Iran's armed forces apparently confirmed the incursion, in a statement quoted by Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam satellite television.

"Our forces are on our own soil and, based on the known international borders, this well belongs to Iran," they said.

Oil prices rose on Friday amid reports about the commandeered well in Maysan province.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters news agency: "We call for calm and for a peaceful solution to this matter, far from any military escalation."

US forces are due to stay in Iraq until elections in March 2010, and then gradually pull out, with complete withdrawal scheduled by the end of 2011.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/12/20 01:22:33 GMT

Teheran, Baghdad in oil well wrangle

AFP--NASIRIYAH-- Iranian soldiers took control of an Iraqi oil well on a disputed section of the border on Friday, triggering the ire of Baghdad which demanded their immediate withdrawal.

“Iraq demands that Teheran pulls back the armed men who occupied well No. 4 . . . because what happened today is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told AFP.

An official of the state-owned South Oil Company in the south-eastern city of Amara, west of the field, said earlier that “an Iranian force arrived at the field early Friday.

“It took control of well 4 and raised the Iranian flag even though the well lies inside Iraqi territory,” the official added.

Dabbagh said 11 Iranian soldiers were involved and added that the Baghdad government was demanding “that the men remove the flag”, adding that the well had been drilled by Iraq in 1979.

“The Iraqi government rejects the use of force and has launched contacts with Iran in order to resolve this in a diplomatic way,” Dabbagh said. “We now await Iran’s reply.”

Teheran’s semi-official Mehr news agency, meanwhile, reported that the National Iranian Oil Company denied that border guards had seized a well in Iraq’s Fauqa oilfield. It did not elaborate.

Dabbagh was speaking after an emergency meeting of the Iraqi national security council, a ministerial body chaired by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Dabbagh said the incident occurred in a border area where markers to delineate the frontier disappeared during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.

“Iraq rejects oil activity in this sector because the border is not really marked. That is why we call on the Iranian authorities to resolve border disputes and replace border markers,” he said.
Earlier, a US military spokesman told AFP the incident was non-violent but the latest in a series of such activity along the frontier.

“The oilfield is in disputed territory in between Iranian and Iraqi border forts,” said the officer at Contingency Operating Base Adder, just outside the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

Well 4 is in the Fauqa Field, part of a cluster of oilfields Iraq unsuccessfully put up for auction to oil majors in June. The field has estimated reserves of 1,55 million barrels.
It lies about 500 metres from an Iranian border fort and about one kilometre from an Iraqi border fort, US colonel Peter Newell said.

But it falls on the Iraqi side of a border agreed between the two countries, he said, adding that there are five other fields in disputed territory.

“What happens is, periodically, about every three or four months, the oil ministry guys from Iraq will go . . . to fix something or do some maintenance. They’ll paint it in Iraqi colours and throw an Iraqi flag up,” Newell said.

“They’ll hang out there for a while, until they get tired, and as soon as they go away, the Iranians come down the hill and paint it in Iranian colours and raise an Iranian flag. It happened about three months ago and it will probably happen again.”

Obama told China: I can't stop Israel strike on Iran indefinitely

By Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondents

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned his Chinese counterpart that the United States would not be able to keep Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear installations for much longer, senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz.

They said Obama warned President Hu Jintao during the American's visit to Beijing a month ago as part of the U.S. attempt to convince the Chinese to support strict sanctions on Tehran if it does not accept Western proposals for its nuclear program.

The Israeli officials, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the United States had informed Israel on Obama's meetings in Beijing on Iran. They said Obama made it clear to Hu that at some point the United States would no longer be able to prevent Israel from acting as it saw fit in response to the perceived Iranian threat.

After the Beijing summit, the U.S. administration thought the Chinese had understood the message; Beijing agreed to join the condemnation of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency only a week after Obama's visit. But in the past two weeks the Chinese have maintained their hard stance regarding the West's wishes to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The Israeli officials say the Americans now understand that the Chinese agreed to join the condemnation announcement only because Obama made a personal request to Hu, not as part of a policy change.

The Chinese have even refused a Saudi-American initiative designed to end Chinese dependence on Iranian oil, which would allow China to agree to the sanctions, said the Israeli officials.

Saudi Arabia, which is also very worried about the Iranian nuclear program and keen to advance international steps against Iran, offered to supply the Chinese the same quantity of oil the Iranians now provide, and at much cheaper prices. But China rejected the deal.

Since Obama's visit, the Chinese have refused to join any measures to impose sanctions. The Israeli officials say the Chinese have been giving unclear answers and have not been responding to the claims by Western nations. Beijing has been making do with statements such as "the time has not yet arrived for sanctions."

China's actions are particularly problematic because China will take over the presidency of the UN Security Council in January. Western diplomats say China would have no choice but to join in sanctions if Russia agrees to support them, but China could delay discussions and postpone any decision until February, when France becomes council president.

The Israeli officials say Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is showing a greater willingness for sanctions on Iran, despite hesitations by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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