Iraq conflict: Kurds seize two oilfields in north

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Kurdish fighters moved into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk last month

Iraqi Kurds have taken over two northern oilfields amid a growing dispute with the government in Baghdad.

Kurdish peshmerga forces are said to have seized control of production facilities at Bai Hassan and Kirkuk.

Kurdish MPs withdrew from Iraq's central government, after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki accused the Kurds of harbouring extremists.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari - a senior Kurdish figure - said Mr Maliki should apologise for his remark.

If the prime minister did not withdraw his comments, the Kurds would find it extremely difficult to work with him, Mr Zebari told the BBC.

Meanwhile, the number of people killed in a car bombing on the outskirts of Kirkuk has risen to 30.

The attack took place on Friday, when a suicide bomber's vehicle struck a petrol tanker at a checkpoint to the south of the city.

The road is used by refugees fleeing violence in the rest of Iraq for the relative safety of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. Police officers and civilians were among the dead.

Kurdish forces have moved into areas of north-western Iraq abandoned by the Iraqi army during the advance of Islamist insurgents led by the Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) group over the past month.

The Kurds have since declared plans to hold a referendum on independence in the areas seized, escalating tensions with Iraq's central authorities.

Maliki 'hysterical'

In a statement on Friday, the Iraqi oil ministry condemned the seizure of oil refineries, adding that they expected Kurdish fighters to "support security forces in confronting terrorist groups rather than using the conditions to raid and occupy oil fields".

Reuters news agency said a senior source within the Kurdistan Regional Government had confirmed the takeover.

The unnamed source said they had been "forced to act to protect Iraq's infrastructure after learning of attempts by Iraq oil ministry officials to sabotage it".

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The advance of Isis militants has led to some fuel shortages in Iraq

The two oilfields are said to have a combined daily output capacity of some 400,000 barrels per day, AFP quotes a ministry spokesman as saying.

The Kurdish minority in Iraq managed to establish an autonomous region in the north in 2005 after decades of political and military efforts to seek self-rule.

Kurdish officials, including Kurdistan Region leader Massoud Barzani, say they view independence of areas under Kurdish control as their right.

Tensions came to a head when Prime Minister Maliki said on Wednesday that the Kurdish provincial capital Irbil was a haven for Isis fighters.

Soon after, a spokesman for Massoud Barzani said Mr Maliki "had become hysterical" and urged him to step down.

Media caption,
Leader of the Kurdish region of Iraq Massoud Barzani: "The goal of Kurdistan is independence"

Foreign Minister Zebari told Reuters news agency on Friday that the Kurdish political bloc had suspended all day-to-day government business after Mr Maliki's remarks.

He said the country risked division if an inclusive government was not formed soon, adding: "The country is now divided literally into three states - Kurdish, a black state [Isis] and Baghdad."

This row with the Kurds is the last thing Iraq needs because it is already facing a stunningly successful Islamist insurgency, says the BBC's Mark Doyle in Baghdad.

It is a three-way dispute between the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia and it could lead to a three-way split, our correspondent adds.

'Mass killings'

Separately on Friday, the Iraqi government recalled Iraqi Kurd diplomats based at its UK embassy who were accused of taking part in a demonstration calling for the full secession of Iraqi Kurdistan.

But the diplomats' case symbolises a much more serious dispute, with Iraq's ethnic and religious unity and the very borders of the modern state under threat, our correspondent says.

Meanwhile, activist group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government appeared to have executed at least 255 prisoners since 9 June.

"The vast majority of security forces and militias are Shia, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni," HRW said in a statement.

"The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by ISIS," the statement added.

Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director, said: "While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of Isis, it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces."

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