Kurdish fighters have seized two oilfields in northern Iraq, with Baghdad warning of dire consequences. As political unity proves elusive, Kurdish lawmakers said they would stop attending national cabinet meetings.
Troops from Iraqi Kurdistan were said to have overrun the Bay Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields, seizing all their facilities, sources at the Northern Oil Company said.
"They gave the employees the option of staying or leaving," said an official in the company on the condition of anonymity.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) confirmed they had taken the two oilfields, claiming the action had been necessary.
"The KRG was forced to act to protect Iraq's infrastructure after learning of attempts by Iraq's oil ministry officials to sabotage it," a senior KRG source told the Reuters news agency.
"From now on, it will be under KRG control and we expect operations to start up soon," he added.
The takeover of the oilfields - in territory long disputed between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish government - was condemned by the national oil ministry in Baghdad, which called on the Kurds to withdraw immediately to avoid "dire consequences".
Business on hold
With Iraq increasingly becoming fragmented, Kurdish politicians on Thursday said they would boycott cabinet meetings, as their relations deteriorated with Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The announcement came from Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, who is a Kurd. "We have suspended our government business," said Zebari.
Zebari told the Reuters news agency that Kurdish ministers were suspending daily involvement in the foreign, trade, migration and health ministries, as well as the deputy premiership. However, he said, Kurdish lawmakers would continue to attend the parliament, which was elected on April 30.
Maliki has been involved in an increasingly bitter war of words this week as Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani warned that Maliki should not stand for a third term.
Barzani on Thursday accused Maliki of becoming "hysterical" and having "lost his balance," in response to an accusation from Maliki that his regime was harboring militants from the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Kurdish troops moved into land that was vacated by central government forces in the face of an advance by Sunni militants from ISIS that began last month.
rc/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)