Islamic State fighters have killed five people in an attack on the largest oil field in Kirkuk, Bas Hassan, and have attempted to take down a gas compression station nearby as well, where they planted bombs after killing four guards. The fifth victim was an engineer working at Bas Hassan, media report, citing Iraqi and Kurdish sources. However, ISIS itself has so far not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Sources from the Kurdish military forces, the Peshmerga, said that the attack on the gas station was neutralized and that three of the four ISIS terrorists involved in the double hit were killed, one of them managing to blow himself up, causing explosions in oil storage tanks at Bas Hassan. The fourth one escaped. There have been suggestions that the attackers belonged to a sleeper cell based in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.
Bas Hassan is the largest oilfield in Kirkuk and contributes around a third of the oil exports of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which has been locked in an unofficial dispute over the oil-rich province with the central government in Baghdad since the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Multi-ethnic as it is, Kirkuk has been hard to win for either Baghdad or Erbil, the center of the Kurdistan government. It seems, however, that a large portion of the population would back a referendum on where it belongs, which could see it become even more closely affiliated with Kurdistan than with Iraq, as Oilprice wrote back in April. Related: Why Goldman Sachs Remains Bullish On Russian Oil
According to some local analysts, Kirkuk is already practically under Kurdish control but there is a possibility for the province to become an autonomous entity. This, says Arif Qurbany, will be pretty much a disaster for Kurdish interests – and people – in Kirkuk. Autonomy will give Baghdad more power to influence the course of events in the oil-rich region, undermining the Kurds’ influence, he argues.
Control over Kirkuk is extremely important for Kurdistan, as it is overwhelmingly dependent on oil for its livelihood, just like Iraq. Currently, the Kurdistan Regional Government has control over some 45 billion barrels of oil (BP estimates), which is about a third of Iraq’s total. Now that KRG has won the right to market its own oil independently of Baghdad, it will likely do everything in its power to get access to more oil and that oil is in Kirkuk.
ISIS attacks on Kurdish territory have been rarer than elsewhere in Iraq. Yet, the terrorist group is now being driven out of some important strongholds by the Iraqi army (and by the Syrian forces in Syria), cutting its access to oil, on which it is no less dependent than both Baghdad and Erbil. Just earlier this month, ISIS set five oilfields on fire near Mosul, one of the first major cities that fell to the terrorists back in 2014.
Oil is the ultimate bargaining chip in the war-torn Middle East. This latest attack is simply another in a long string of events constantly highlighting this fact.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:
- Oil Prices Fall Below $40 As OPEC Ramps Up Output
- Oil Flirts With Bear Market As Short Positions Surge Most In 10 Years Time
- Saudi Arabia Slashes Crude Price To Asia