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Clashes In Kurdistan Send Oil Prices Higher

Reports of clashes between Iraqi troops and Kurdish armed forces near Kirkuk yesterday sent WTI and Brent higher in Asian trade today. The latest reports coming in say the Iraqi army has seized a refinery in Kirkuk as well as a gas plant in the area. Exports from Kirkuk, however, are flowing normally for the time being.

At 9:10AM, WTI was trading at US$52.31 and Brent was at US$58.44, on supply worries as the Iraqi-Kurdish conflict intensifies.

After last week Kurdistan accused Baghdad of planning a takeover of the oil fields around Kirkuk and an Iraqi general confirmed there was such a plan, now media are reporting that the Iraqi forces have clashed with the Kurdish peshmerga near the oil city.

Earlier reports today based on Iraqi state television said that the Iraqi forces had taken “vast areas” around Kirkuk without opposition from the peshmerga. Still earlier reports from Friday had it that Iraqi PM Haidar al-Abadi denied there was a plan to retake Kirkuk and its oil wealth.

However, the latest news reports say it was on the PM’s orders that the Iraqi troops, along with the Iran-trained Shiite militia Popular Mobilization Forces, were deployed to northern Iraq with the purpose of taking Kirkuk and the oil fields around it.

Meanwhile, Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reports that Iran yesterday closed its border with Kurdistan, quoting a Kurdish customs official. It was unclear how long the closure will last, but for now it only concerned the three official border crossings between the autonomous region and Iran. Several semi-official ones were still open. Related: Trump Just Made Iran A Wildcard

The spike in tensions in Iraq follows an independence referendum that Erbil held in late September. With an overwhelming “Yes” vote, the autonomous region indicated that it will pursue its goal of complete independence from Baghdad despite international opposition, mostly from Iraq’ s neighbors Iran and Turkey, both home to substantial Kurdish minorities.

Kurdistan, according to its government, may hold up to 45 billion barrels of crude and pumps well over 500,000 bpd. In fact, in April this year, Rystad Energy forecast that Kurdistan will lift its daily oil production to more than 600,000 bpd this year. Exports from Kurdistan, as of August this year, averaged 570,000 bpd, according to energy data provider Kpler. A source told Bloomberg that the current oil export rate from Kurdistan was around 600,000 bpd.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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