Iraqi media reports a Kurdish paramilitary force has occupied the office of an Iraqi oil company in the northern city of Kirkuk. Photo by Sedat Suna/EPA
March 2 (UPI) -- Iraqi media reported a Kurdish paramilitary force occupied the offices of a state oil company in Kirkuk in a show of force over the nation's oil reserves.
Forces loyal to the leftist Patriotic Union of Kurdistan entered the Kirkuk offices of the North Oil Co. to stake a claim to the oil in northern Iraq. Aso Mamand, the head of the PUK, was quoted by Iraqi media outlet Rudaw as saying the central government in Baghdad was exploiting the region for its oil wealth.
"We have deployed troops to prevent Baghdad from exporting Kirkuk's oil to Mosul and Baghdad," he said. "Baghdad wants to export Kirkuk's oil for the rest of Iraq while our people are in desperate need for it."
The news agency reported the Kurdish force is in control of a pumping station that serves as an export outlet to send oil through pipelines to the Turkish sea port at Ceyhan. The blockade from Kirkuk follows an order from the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq to shift some of the oil exported from its territory to trucks instead of pipelines until further notice.
Kurds control the contested province of Kirkuk and, by some accounts, control about a third of the total oil reserves in Iraq. The KRG is at odds with Baghdad over control of the oil sector despite a 2014 agreement demarcating the lines of authority.
Iraq agreed to cut about 210,000 barrels per day from its production under the terms of a deal outlined by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, though the central government in Baghdad said the semiautonomous Kurdish government wasn't doing its share.
The paramilitary leader said the central government in Baghdad has a week to consider its position on oil in Kirkuk.
Iraq in the past had balked at production restrictions, arguing it needed a steady revenue stream to support the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. Most of the fighting against the terror group has been centered near the Kurdish north.