From Reuters

BAGHDAD/KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi on Monday forces captured the headquarters for the North Oil Company, northwest of Kirkuk, and a nearby refinery from Kurdish forces, without fighting, an Iraqi oil official said.

Iraq forces moved into the premises of Iraqi state-owned North Oil after taking the nearby K1 airbase, the Kirkuk-based official told Reuters. They were also deploying in the nearby Baba Gurgur field and the North Oil refinery.

Oil and natural gas production from the Kirkuk region is proceeding normally despite the ongoing Iraqi military operation to seize the region form Kurdish forces, another Iraqi Oil Ministry official told Reuters in Baghdad.

‘‘Kurdish leaders we consider as our brothers have agreed to hand over control of North Oil and North Gas company facilities who belong to the state,‘’ said a military commander involved in the operation. “We have an agreement with some Kurdish leaders that the oil and gas facilities should stay out of the conflict,” the ministry official said.

North Oil contributes a small part of Iraq’s overall crude production, pumped mainly from fields in the south.

From Bloomberg

Iraq Takes Kirkuk Power Center to Stall Kurdish Statehood

Iraqi forces said they had seized the headquarters of Kirkuk’s provincial administration on Monday, as the government in Baghdad dramatically escalated its efforts to prevent a Kurdish state in the country’s north. The offensive helped push oil to a two-week high.

The commander of federal police units in the disputed city said in a statement that his forces had entered the building, triggering celebrations from non-Kurdish residents. Earlier the army and its allied militias had taken oil fields, a refinery and military base from Kurdish control in an unexpected advance, according to state-run Iraqiya television. Some Kurdish fighters — known as the peshmerga — were reported to have withdrawn from their positions in coordination with the Iraqi troops, rather than defend them.

The military offensive, which Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had vowed to avoid, follows three weeks of escalating tensions since the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood on Sept. 25. Iran and Turkey, both with their own restive Kurdish minorities, have led regional opposition to the referendum. On Monday, Turkey said it was shutting airspace for flights to and from the Kurdish region and would transfer control of a key border gate to authorities in Baghdad. The U.S. appealed for an end to military action.

It’s unclear how far Iraq’s army and its militia partners intend to advance, but the importance of Kirkuk and the complexity of the armed alliances increase the “potential for political and military miscalculations,” said Glen Ransom, Iraq analyst at Control Risks in Dubai. “The U.S. will try to de-escalate the situation to avoid compromising anti-Islamic State operations,” he said. That could lead to agreements on Kurdish withdrawals from some areas and potentially joint administration, he added.

Jihadist Advance

There were conflicting reports as the Iraqi campaign began late on Sunday. State television reported that Abadi had ordered Iraqi forces to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with Kurdish peshmerga forces, adding that government troops had captured areas in the city without a fight. The Kurdish Rudaw news service said at least seven Iraqi militiamen were killed south of Kirkuk, citing an unidentified peshmerga commander.

Kurdish forces occupied much of Kirkuk province in June 2014 after Iraqi troops retreated ahead of the then-advancing Islamic State militants. Baghdad refuses to recognize Kurdish control of the area, which was included in the September vote even though it lies outside territory officially governed by the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government.

The turmoil forced Kurdish officials to stop pumping oil two deposits in Kirkuk as technicians failed to report for work and some security guards left, according to an official at state-run North Oil Co., who didn’t specify the amount of oil involved.

Iraq is the second-largest producer within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, pumping most of its 4.47 million barrels a day from fields in the south and shipping it from the Persian Gulf port of Basra.

Kirkuk’s oil fields and deposits inside the adjacent Kurdish region were exporting about 600,000 barrels a day through a Kurd-controlled pipeline to Turkey, according to a person familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Eurasia Group estimates that Iraq taking control in Kirkuk could cut shipments by 450,000 barrels daily until the federal government repairs its own disused pipeline to Turkey or reaches a revenue-sharing deal with the Kurds.

Underscoring the potential for a regional spillover, Abadi’s office had late on Sunday accused the Kurds of deploying militants from the Turkish PKK organization, saying that was considered a declaration of war against Iraq.

The PKK has been battling for independence for Turkey’s Kurds for more than three decades, and authorities in Ankara fear Kurdish gains in Iraq and neighboring Syria could fuel further violence at home.

“The war on ISIS is edging to an end and now the real war starts, the war between the regional powers in order to control resources and define their own areas of influence,” said Sami Nader, head of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Beirut. What’s happening in Kirkuk is not just a local Iraqi conflict but a regional race to establish new boundaries, he said.

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