On Saturday Iraqi troops "massed" near the disputed oil well seized by Iranian soldiers about 185 miles SE of Baghdad, AP reported late in the day.[1]  --  Iran's military claimed that "the oil well was part of Iranian territory according to a 1975 border agreement, in a statement carried by the Arabic language Iranian news station al-Alam," Lara Jakes said.  --  Contradictory accounts and interpretations of the present situation as well as of the events leading up to were circulating.[2,3]  --  The U.S. chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm Mike Mullen, said there are "no plans by the United States to intervene."[1] ...



By Lara Jakes

Associated Press
December 19, 2009


Iraqi troops massed Saturday near an oil well on the border in a standoff with Iranian forces that seized control of the site in a sudden flare up of tension between the two uneasy neighbors.

The top U.S. diplomat in Iraq said Baghdad's speedy response to the border incursion showed that Iraq is "not going to be pushed around" by Iran.

The Iraqi troops and border guards were waiting for further orders at a staging ground about a kilometer from oil well No. 4 at the al-Fakkah oil field, said an Interior Ministry official at the site who was not authorized to talk to the media.

The Iranian military, meanwhile, denied they had violated Iraq's sovereignty since the oil well was part of Iranian territory according to a 1975 border agreement, in a statement carried by the Arabic language Iranian news station al-Alam.

The field is located about 200 miles (about 320 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.

It was not clear, however, whether the Iranian forces who seized the well late Thursday night were still there.

The diplomatic and security standoff began late Thursday, when Iranian forces crossed into Iraq and seized the well that sits just over the border in the southern Maysan province.  It was a dramatic display of the occasionally tense relations between the wary neighbors.

The takeover -- which included planting an Iranian flag on the well -- was met by protests from Baghdad and an emergency meeting of Iraq's national security council that denounced it as a gross violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraqi officials said the well was clearly in Iraqi territory and demanded that the Iranians leave immediately.  High-level diplomatic talks between Iraq and Iran are continuing, said Iraqi deputy foreign minister Labid Abbawi.

"The situation this morning is the same:  the Iranians have not withdrawn from the well," Abbawi told The Associated Press.  "We are still sticking to our position in demanding an immediate withdrawal of Iranian forces from the oil well."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast accused foreign media of spreading false news to "disrupt good relations" between Tehran and Baghdad.

"Diplomatic and technical mechanisms" were the way to deal with the issue, said Hasan Kazemi Qomi, the ambassador to Iraq, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Army Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told reporters that the Iranian forces had withdrawn from the oil well as of Saturday morning.  But an oil worker at the field said five Iranians remain inside the well, and the Iranian flag still flew above it.

The worker, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution, said Iranian troops were watching the well from a hillside on Iran's side of the border.

It was not clear as well what kind of Iranian forces had been at the well.  An Iraqi official and an eyewitness described them as soldiers.  The Iraqi government spokesman described them only as armed men.

U.S. officials said Iran had overstepped its boundaries.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the top American military official, said the U.S. considers the oil site Iraqi sovereign territory.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said the incident does speak to the overall view here that they are not going to be "pushed around by Iran."

However, Mullen said the incident must be resolved by the Iraqi government, and there were no plans by the United States to intervene.

Once bitter enemies, Iraq and Iran settled into a more positive, if still uneasy, relationship after a Shiite-led government came to power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

"I continue to worry about the influence of Iran," Mullen, in Iraq for a two-day visit with U.S. and Iraqi authorities, said at a news conference in Baghdad.  "I still think it's important that Iran have a constructive, positive influence in this region and globally.  And there are just too many examples where that is not the case."

Odierno also said Iran continues to fund and train fighters in Iraq, as well as send weapons and equipment over the border -- although less frequently now than in the past.

Analysts said it was too early to say whether the incident would mushroom into greater tension but said it could raise concerns with oil companies looking to invest in Iraq.

Oil prices rose slightly after news of the incident.

--Associated Press Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.



December 19, 2009


TEHRAN -- Iran on Saturday rejected the reports that an Iraqi oil well was taken over by Iranian armed forces as an attempt to harm the relations between the two neighboring countries, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Foreign media made unfounded allegation . . . and attempted to disrupt friendly relations between Iran and Iraq by propaganda campaign," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying.

"Iran and Iraq currently enjoy friendly and excellent ties," he said.  "Those who are not satisfied with such friendly ties between the two countries try to create rift by spreading improper language."

Mehmanparast pointed out that "such technical issues which are quite natural would be resolved by the two countries officials through exchange of views."

Iran's foreign ministry and other relative bodies are now investigating the case, he added.

Some Iraqi and Western media reported Friday that Iranian forces had crossed into Iraq and seized the No. 4 oil well from the al-Fakkah oilfield in Iraq's Maysan province.

Iraq's state-run *al-Sabah* newspaper on Saturday quoted the government spokesmen Ali al-Dabbagh as saying that the Iraqi Security Council has "stressed that the incident is a violation to Iraq's sovereignty and territories and called upon Iran to pull out its troops from the well."

The al-Fakkah oilfield was first drilled by Iraqis in 1979 as part of the Iraqi territories before the Iraqi-Iranian eight-years war in 1980.

However, the oilfield is now considered a shared one and both Iran and Iraq have the right to pump from it, but the Iraqis consider the well No. 4 theirs.



By Aresu Eqbali

Agence France-Presse
December 19, 2009


TEHRAN -- Iran on Saturday acknowledged its takeover of an oil well on the Iraqi border but insisted the well lies on its land, playing down the fallout from the first such incident since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Our forces are on our own soil and, based on the known international borders, this well belongs to Iran," the armed forces command said in a statement, quoted by Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam satellite television.

On Friday, Iraq's state-owned South Oil Co 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."

Baghdad has demanded that "Tehran pull back the armed men who occupied well No. 4" and condemned the incident as "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

It was the first serious incident between the two neighbors since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, whose forces fought a 1980-1988 war against Iran.

Many leaders of Shiite parties who were exiled to Iran during the Saddam era are now in power in Baghdad.

"It's a sovereignty issue" which has to be resolved by Iraqi leaders, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, told reporters during a visit to Baghdad.

But Iran's foreign ministry's spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast accused "external sources" of working to damage relations between 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."

In Baghdad, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hajj Hamud told AFP that an Iranian unit made up of around a dozen soldiers and technicians was still posted at the disputed well on Saturday.

"We summoned Iran's ambassador to Baghdad yesterday (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.

The Iraqi official said the incident came 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.

Well 4 is in the 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.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, meanwhile, said 11 Iranian soldiers were involved and that Baghdad was demanding the removal of the Iranian flag.

In southern Iraq, a U.S. military spokesman told AFP that the incident at Well 4 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 city of Nasiriyah.

The well lies about 500 metres (yards) from an Iranian border fort and about one kilometre from an Iraqi border fort, U.S. Colonel Peter Newell said.

But it falls on the Iraqi side of a border agreed between the two countries, according to the US officer, who added that there were five other fields in disputed territory.

World oil prices rose on Friday, with markets edgy over the dispute.

New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for January, rose 71 cents to close at 73.36 dollars a barrel, while in London, Brent North Sea crude for February delivery settled 38 cents higher at 73.75 dollars a barrel.