x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iraq says Iranian forces retreat from disputed oil well

Iraqi troops escort workers back to a remote oil well as Iranian forces withdraw after a standoff between the two countries.

Iraqi troops escorted workers back to a remote oil well today after Iranian forces withdrew as a standoff on the two countries' disputed border appeared to wane. Two Iraqi government officials and an employee at the site said about 11 oil workers returned to well No. 4 at the al-Fakkah oilfield, seized by Iranian forces on Thursday. Al-Fakkah is one of the largest oilfields in Iraq, and is located in the southern province of Maysan. Iraqi soldiers planted the Iraqi flag on the well where Iran's flag had flown, said a senior oil ministry official in Baghdad.

The three officials and the oil worker spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the issue publicly. The Iranians were still nearby, however, with about six soldiers retreated to a hilltop overlooking the oil well, said the two government officials. Another 50 were stationed at a border checkpoint about 150 meters away. Both Iran and Iraq claim parts of al-Fakkah as theirs. Located about 320 kilometres south-east of Baghdad, the oilfield has an estimated 1.5 billion barrels in reserves.

The standoff displayed the occasionally tense relations between the two oil-rich nations, which fought an eight-year war in the 1980s but now share common ground in Shiite-led governments. It spurred an emergency meeting of Iraq's national security council and high-level diplomatic talks between Baghdad and Tehran. US officials, worried about Iran's growing influence in the region, praised what they described as Baghdad's quick but measured response to the dispute.

* AP