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Exxon Mobil pulls out foreign staff from Iraqi oil field

May 18, 2019

Exxon Mobil's decision to evacuate its foreign staff from a major Iraqi oil field comes amid rising tensions between the US and Iran. The US company's employees are reportedly being flown from Iraq to Dubai.

Iraqi laborers work at an oilfield near Basra
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/N. al-Jurani

Sources in the Iraqi oil industry and a senior Iraqi official said Saturday that Exxon Mobil, an American oil and gas corporation, had begun evacuating its entire foreign staff — around 60 people — from the West Qurna 1 oil field in the southern Iraqi province of Basra.

The evacuation came just days after the US pulled out its nonessential staff from its embassy in Baghdad, citing a threat from Iran, which has close ties with Iraq.

Read more: Iraq walks Iran-US tightrope as tensions escalate

Ihsan Abdul Jabbar, the chief of Iraq's state-owned South Oil company, which owns the Basra field, said that the Exxon evacuation would not affect oil production, as local engineers would continue their work normally.

"Exxon Mobil's evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure," Jabbar said. "We have no indication over any dangers. The situation is secure and very stable at the oil field, which is running at full capacity and producing 440,000 barrels per day.

"The foreign engineers will provide advice and perform their duties from the company's Dubai offices, and we have no concerns at all," he added.

Exxon Mobil has a long-term deal with Iraq's Southern Oil Company to develop and rehabilitate the oilfield to increase its production. The US firm declined to confirm the evacuation reports.

Read more: US warns airliners flying over Persian Gulf amid Iran tensions

Iran Crisis: Deal or war?

Rising tension in the region

The Exxon evacuation came amid a growing spat between Washington and Tehran. The US has substantially increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf, however, it has played down the risk of war.

Read more: Opinion: US-Iran escalation a threat, but war unlikely

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries accepted a US request to redeploy American troops on their territory and in Gulf waters in order to deter potential Iranian attacks.

In an advisory to its citizen on Saturday, Bahrain warned its citizens against traveling to Iraq and Iran. The Gulf monarchy's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the advice was due to the "unstable situation in the region and the recent escalations and threats against security and stability."

Two weeks ago, Washington deployed an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf against what it claims is an imminent threat from arch-foe, Iran.

The latest tensions all take root in US President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions.

Read more: US military flare-up 'would be a godsend to Iran hard-liners'

shs/sms  (Reuters, dpa)

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