BAGHDAD/KIRKUK (Reuters) – Kurdish forces seized two oilfields in northern Iraq and took over operations from a state-run oil company on Friday, while Kurdish politicians formally suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government.
The moves escalated a feud between the Shi’ite-led central government and the autonomous Kurdish region driven by a Sunni insurgency which threatens to fragment Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines three years after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The Kurdish forces took over production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields near the city of Kirkuk, the oil ministry in Baghdad said. It called on the Kurds to withdraw immediately to avoid “dire consequences”.
Kurdish forces took control of nearby Kirkuk a month ago after Iraqi troops withdrew in the face of a lightning assault by Islamic State militants, who have seized large parts of northern and western Iraq.
The two oilfields 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.
An oil ministry spokesman in Baghdad described the takeover as dangerous and irresponsible and called for the Kurdish forces to withdraw immediately.
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