Kurdish troops were defending Iraq's fourth-biggest oilfield against Islamist militants after deploying outside their semi-autonomous region in the country's north. The oilfield is also claimed by the central government.
More than 100,000 Kurdish fighters, known as peshmergas, are guarding a "front line" from Iraq's eastern border with Iran to the northern town of Fishkabur near Turkey, Jabbar Yawar, Peshmerga Ministry secretary general, said on Monday in an interview in Arbil, the Kurdish region's capital. They now occupy areas around the contested city of Kirkuk where BP has been in talks with Iraq's government to help it reverse the declining output seen at the oilfield discovered in 1927.
Iraq's army abandoned Kirkuk last week amid an offensive by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Peshmergas now control all energy facilities and oil deposits in the Kirkuk area other than a refinery in Baiji, 80km to the southwest, which ISIL forces have surrounded, Yawar said.
ISIL also seized part of a pipeline for oil exports from Kirkuk to Turkey, he said. Oil flows through the pipeline have been halted for security reasons since March 2, according to Iraq's oil ministry. "Currently all disputed areas are inside the Kurdistan region or protected by the region's forces," Yawar said. "It is not possible that the Iraqi government return and fill these huge areas that it left."
The Kurdistan Regional Government controls 45 billion barrels of oil and has attracted a host of international oil companies.