Exxon Mobil pulls foreign staff out of Basra: Reuters

Exxon Mobil has pulled its foreign staff out of Basra’s West Qurna 1 oilfield amid fears that aggressive posturing by the United States and Iran in the region could spark a confrontation in Iraq where both sides have influence and interests.

The foreign staff were evacuated Friday night and Saturday morning, Reuters reported, citing Iraqi oil officials. Production at the field, one of Iraq’s largest, is continuing as normal under the supervision of Iraqi engineers. American multinational Exxon Mobil is the lead contractor rehabilitating and developing West Qurna 1.

The head of Iraq’s state-owned South Oil Company, Ihsan Abdul Jabbar, said the evacuation was a precautionary measure and not in response to a specific threat.

“Exxon Mobil’s evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure,” he told Reuters. “We have no indication over any dangers, the situation is secure and very stable at the oilfield which is running at full capacity and producing 440,000 bpd.”

The evacuation follows a decision by the United States government to pull some diplomatic staff out of Iraq and issue a warning of the risk of kidnapping to all American nationals in the country this week because of reports of an “imminent” threat emanating from Iran. On Saturday morning, the US aviation authority issued a warning to commercial airlines flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman about the risk of being “misidentified” during increased military activities.

The escalation comes a year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord with Iran and began a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. On May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran’s intention to scale back some of its nuclear commitments under the deal if it did not get some relief from sanctions.

Both sides say they don’t want war, but are on alert. The US has deployed a number of ships to Middle Eastern waters and the commander of Iran’s army Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi said they have “full combat and psychological readiness and if the enemy dares to make a miscalculation or a strategic mistake, it will receive a response that would make it regret it.”

As an ally to both sides, Iraq is caught in the middle. The Baghdad government has taken a neutral stance, telling Tehran and Washington not to play out their dispute on Iraqi soil.

Regardless of Baghdad’s stance, Iraq may be drawn into the fray by Iranian-backed elements within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). On Thursday, an unidentified drone was spotted flying close to the US embassy in Baghdad, throwing the mission into lockdown, NBC reported. A State Department official told the TV station that the drone was determined to not be a threat and business returned to normal. Source

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