On December 18, 2009 eleven Iranian soldiers stormed Well Number Four in the Fauqi oil field that straddles the Iran-Iraq border, and chased off Iraqi workers who were there. Two days later the Iranians withdrew, although Iraqi officials claim they are still on Iraqi territory. The Iranian action led to protests in Karbala and Anbar, and a tribal council in Basra threatened to retake the oil well by force if Baghdad wasn’t able to reclaim it. Tehran on the other hand, said it was all a misunderstanding that was being blown out of proportion by Iran’s enemies. There are still several unanswered questions as the incident is coming to an end.
First, why were Iraqis at Well Number Four? A sheikh from Maysan’s tribal council said that the Iranians had been acting belligerently around the Fauqi field since the beginning of December, harassing both Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces. Well Number Four is also dormant, and a spokesman from the Oil Ministry said no Iraqi workers had been there to extract oil before the Iranian take over. The two countries have an unwritten agreement not to work on disputed parts of the oil field as well. Given this situation, it would seem a provocative action for Iraqi oil workers to go to Number Four last week, and put up the Iraqi flag. Were they there for some routine maintenance, or did they go there on purpose as part of a tit for tat game the two countries had been playing recently at disputed oil fields along the border?
Second, why has Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki been completely silent on the issue? Iraq’s Interior Minister said it was not a big deal, while the Foreign Ministry said Iraq and Iran would meet soon to work on the border, but Maliki has said absolutely nothing. This seems like an odd thing, especially because the country is in full election mode for the 2010 vote, and the Prime Minister has been running on his nationalist credentials. This has raised questions about Iran’s role in Iraqi politics amongst some.
Despite these questions, this incident is likely to go down as a minor event. It’s not going to change the larger political, economic, and cultural relationship the two countries have forged since the overthrow of Saddam, but it does show there are underlying tensions between the two. It will also provide fodder for nationalists who would like to see that be more of an equal exchange between the two, and who want Tehran’s influence in the government to end.
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Alsumaria, “Hashemi calls on Iran to withdraw from Iraq,” 12/23/09
- “Iran: Iraq border incident misunderstanding,” 12/23/09
- “Iraq awaits Iran troops exit from oil well,” 12/23/09
- “Iraq tribal council forms combat brigades in face of Iranian troops,” 12/23/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Joint committees to determine Fakka oilfield’s fate – amb.,” 12/23/09
- “Parliament to host FM on Iranian violation,” 12/23/09
Lando, Ben, “The Iranian invasion,” Iraq Oil Report, 12/18/09
Latif, Nizar, “Iraq-Iran oil well tensions simmered ‘for weeks,’” The National, 12/21/09
Al-Rafidayn, Al-Sumarianews, Al-Mada, Al-Zaman, “Iranian Occupation of Oil Field in Iraq Unleashes Widespread Anti-Iran Reactions,” MEMRI Blog, 12/23/09
Rao, Prashant, “Iraq protests against Iranian takeover of oil well,” Agence France Presse, 12/18/09
Williams, Timothy and Adnan, Duraid, “Iran-Iraq Standoff Over Oil Field Ends,” New York Times, 12/20/09