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Iran Rejects Iraqi Incursion Claim


The Iranian oil refinery of Mizdeh seen in 2008 from the Iraqi border village of Nafet Khana. Iran has acknowledged its takeover of an oil well on the Iraqi border but insists the well lies on its land, playing down the fallout from the first such incident since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (AFP/File/Patrick Baz)

Iran has rejected Iraqi demands that it withdraw its soldiers from an oil well, the ownership of which is disputed by Baghdad.

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.

But the Iraqi government in Baghdad has demanded that "Tehran pull
back the armed men who occupied well No 4", condemning the incident as
"a violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

Friday, Iraq's state-owned South Oil Company in the southeastern city
of Amara said "an Iranian force arrived at the field ... it took
control of Well 4 and raised the Iranian flag even though the well lies
inside Iraqi territory."

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

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around a dozen soldiers and technicians to be withdrawn.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 yesterday [Friday] to tell
him that this attack is unacceptable and our ambassador to  ehran
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 dispute

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 concered
"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 in 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. 


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