Fri, 20 Sep 2019

U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil has evacuated its foreign staff from an oil field in Iraq, the country's oil minister says.

The evacuation of around 60 ExxonMobil employees, mostly Americans, comes amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, with concerns about a potential military conflict.

Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban said in a May 19 statement that ExxonMobil's decision was 'unacceptable and unjustified' and had 'nothing to do with the security situation or threats in the oilfields in of southern Iraq,' adding that it was 'political.'

Washington has ordered a beefing up of U.S. military assets in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, citing possible threats from Iran, and the State Department also ordered the evacuation of all nonessential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Iraq.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on May 16 warned U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Persian Gulf that they risked being misidentified.

The ExxonMobil's evacuation started early on May 18 in Iraq's southern province of Basra, with employees flown to the United Arab Emirates.

Ghadhban said he sent a letter to ExxonMobil urging the company to immediately return to work at the southern oil field, ahead of a meeting with company executives this week.

Ihsan Abdul Jabbar, the head of Iraq's state-owned South Oil Company, which owns the oil field, said the evacuation was a 'precautionary and temporary measure.'

Jabbar said operations at the field, run by ExxonMobil, were continuing as normal with the help of Iraqi technicians.

Iran has dismissed the allegations from Washington that there were 'imminent threats' from Tehran and accused the United States of an 'unacceptable' escalation of tensions.

In May 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal which curtailed Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions. Since then Washington has steadily stepped up its rhetoric and reimposed sanctions.

Both sides have said they do not want a war.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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