14 October 2019
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Rocket Strikes at Site of Foreign Oil Firms in Iraq

Thursday, 20 June 2019 21:17
A rocket hit a drilling facility at the Burjesia site near the city of Basra in Iraq. A rocket hit a drilling facility at the Burjesia site near the city of Basra in Iraq.

BAGHDAD—A rocket hit a compound in southern Iraq used by Exxon Mobil Corp. and other international oil firms, heightening fears among Iraqi officials that tensions between the U.S. and Iran would spill into their country.

The rocket landed at the Burjesia site near the city of Basra early Wednesday, injuring three Iraqi staff, according to Forat Salih, the head of media at Basra Oil Co. They were taken to the hospital to be treated for light injuries.

It is the fourth time in less than a week that rockets have been fired at facilities where American personnel are stationed in Iraq, though no major damage has been caused so far.

Iraq’s joint operations command directed all intelligence agencies to find out who was behind Wednesday’s rocket attack and three similar incidents in recent days.

No group claimed responsibility for firing any of the rockets. Iraqi officials didn’t blame any faction but said the incidents fit into a pattern of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The U.S. has boosted military deployments in the Middle East after flagging rising threats from Iran and its nonstate allies. The U.S. also accused Iran of orchestrating recent attacks on tankers near a strategic Persian Gulf waterway, a charge that Tehran has denied. Both sides have said they don’t want war, but the region remains on edge as U.S. and Iranian officials lash out at each other.

Separately this week, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Norway submitted a joint report to the United Nations Security Council concerning an attack last month on four ships near the Emirati port of Fujairah. The report concluded that the May 12 attacks most likely were the work of a hostile nation, but stopped short of directly accusing Iran.

However, the 24-page report, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, provided new details and photos, including images from the “black box” voyage recorder aboard the Saudi tanker Amjad that tracked a small fast-boat approaching just before 4 a.m. that day and slipping away nine minutes later. Emirati and Saudi officials suspect that divers placed limpet mines on the hull, creating a blast that disabled the ship.

Also, a U.S. Navy explosives expert said Wednesday that the magnetic mines used to attack a Japanese-owned oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last week closely resembled similar weapons seen in Iran, although he didn’t directly blame Iran. Cmdr. Sean Kido said at a Navy base in the U.A.E. that damage to the hull of the Kokuka Courageous wasn’t consistent with a “flying object,” as the ship’s owners have suggested.

Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks.

Iraq, which counts both the U.S. and Iran as allies, has sought to chart a middle course between the two countries. Those efforts have been complicated by several powerful militias, some of which are allied with Iran and only nominally answer to the Iraqi government.

The latest rocket fire comes just hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is also commander in chief of the armed forces, ordered that no armed group act outside the framework of the security forces.

The rockets appeared to be calibrated to stop short of harming any U.S. personnel. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi officials during a visit to Baghdad last monththe U.S. would respond to any attack on its personnel by striking inside Iran.

“It is clear there are actors trying to exploit and escalate the U.S.-Iran conflict in Iraq by conducting these rocket attacks, but the question is who exactly?” said Iraqi political analyst Ahmed al-Sharifi. “It’s a proxy war taking place on Iraqi land.”

Exxon’s staff had just recently returned to work after being pulled out of Iraq when the U.S. partially evacuated its embassy in Baghdad in May, citing the growing threat posed by Iran.

A U.S. consultant working with U.S. companies in Iraq said the firms were getting more prudent over Washington-backed plans to strike billions of dollars of energy deals in Iraq. The consultant said General Electric Co. , which is bidding to sell electric equipment with U.S. support, is now more cautious about moving forward, and Exxon Mobil, which has coveted the $53 billion Nahr Bin Umar integrated project, is now planning to pull more staff.

An Exxon Mobil spokeswoman declined to comment on the specifics of the company’s staffing plans. She said the company is “committed to ensuring the safety of our employees and contractors at all of our facilities around the world.” A representative for GE couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

 This week, the U.S. said it would send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East in response to “hostile behavior” by Tehran, following a decision in May to deploy an extra 1,500 soldiers. Monday’s commitment came the same day Iran said it would stockpile more enriched uranium in the next 10 days than allowed under the nuclear deal.

Late on Tuesday, a rocket landed in the presidential compound in the northern city of Mosul where U.S. advisers are stationed. The head of the Nineveh Operations Command said the rocket was manufactured locally and launched from the western side of the river.

A day earlier, three rockets landed near the Taji military base north of Baghdad, where U.S. advisers are present. And last Friday, three mortar rounds were fired at the Balad air base, which also hosts U.S. forces.

Source: Wall Street Journal

 

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