Sectarian violence in southern Iraq threatening oil, gas sector

Clashes and sectarian disputes among tribes in Iraq’s southern region are threatening security at oil installations.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Clashes and sectarian disputes among tribes in Iraq’s southern region are threatening security at oil installations, officials and security sources said.

The deployment of Iraqi security forces in the north and west of the country has created a void in the southern oil producing region where a sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni tribes is on the rise.

The disputes are over farmland, state construction contracts, and land ownership, according to security sources.

The increased violence risks undermining the Iraqi government’s plans to attract new investment to the oil and gas sector in an aim to recover its economy since the war with the Islamic State (IS) began in 2014.

Officials have highlighted the importance of stability in Basra, the main southern city home to Iraq’s largest oilfields where exports account for over 95 percent of government revenues.

Ali Shaddad, the head of the oil and gas committee in Basra’s provincial council, said recent fighting by tribes with mortars and machine guns had come close to key oil installations in the west and north of the city.

“Tribal feuds have been exacerbating recently, and such a negative development could threaten the operations of the foreign energy companies,” he said.

Meanwhile, state-run South Oil Co. (SOC) said oil workers and foreign contractors have refused to continue working due to the violence.

“Tribal fighting near oilfields sites is definitely affecting the energy operations and sending a negative message to foreign oil firms,” Abdullah al-Faris, a media manager at SOC, said.

Monitoring security in the southern parts of Iraq has become difficult as forces are focusing on defeating IS, according to Army Lieutenant Colonel Salah Kareem.

“We need larger forces to control rural areas and restrain lawless tribes in the south,” Kareem said. “This is a difficult job for now as most troops are busy with fighting [IS].”

Security forces have failed to disarm tribesman who had seized large supplies of light and heavy weapons from Saddam Hussein’s army following the collapse of the regime in 2003.


Editing by Ava Homa