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“Unacceptable and unjustified” are the words Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban used to describe ExxonMobil’s hasty exit from the troubled country, according to Reuters, but a late-night rocket strike in Iraq suggests Exxon’s move was timely.
Exxon began evacuating its foreign engineering personnel last week from the West Qurna 1 field in Iraq due to security concerns, Al Arabiya reported at the time. While Exxon neither confirmed nor denied the report last week, Iraqi officials are confirming that Exxon has removed 60 people—or all of its foreign employees.
The security issues came to light mid-week last week after the United States ordered all non-essential personnel from the country citing possible threats from Iran, presumably via the Iraqi Shi’ite militia.
Ghadhban said that Exxon’s personnel shuffling had a different motive.
"The withdrawal of multiple employees - despite their small number - temporarily has nothing to do with the security situation or threats in the oilfields in of southern Iraq, but it's for political reasons," Ghadhban said, adding that he had sent a letter to Iraq asking for the company to return to work in the oilfield.
Exxon’s departure seems rather prudent, however, given the late-night rocket strike near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. Iran was quick to denounce the attacks.
Iraq says that the production at the West Qurna 1 field is not affected by Exxon’s exit, with production still holding at 440,000 barrels per day. However, Exxon’s abrupt departure from the country could put a strain on a $53 billion energy deal that is currently in the works between Exxon, PetroChina, and Iraq—the latter of which stands to rake in $400 billion over the 30-year period that the deal spans, adding more than 350,000 bpd of oil to Iraq’s capabilities.
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com
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Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.