March 8 (UPI) -- The refining capacity of a complex in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk will be expanded in part to better serve community needs, the Iraqi oil minister said.
"The Ministry of Oil is working to add a new refining unit to Kirkuk refinery with a capacity of 10,000 barrels per day before the end of the year," Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said in a statement.
The northern city of Kirkuk has been at the center of disputes between the central government in Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government. The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State waged an offensive on Kirkuk last year.
The oil minister said in a telegram to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that refinery development in Kirkuk would be accomplished through national efforts "in spite of security and economic challenges."
The KRG is at odds with Baghdad over control of the oil sector despite a 2014 agreement demarcating the lines of authority. The Kurdish government claims control over the contested province of Kirkuk and, by some accounts, controls about a third of the total oil reserves in Iraq.
In a show of force last week, fighters 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.
"Baghdad wants to export Kirkuk's oil for the rest of Iraq while our people are in desperate need for it," he said.
Luaibi said the overhaul of the Kirkuk refinery would contribute to the needs of the community in Kirkuk.
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.