Baghdad, oil giants on alert against Syria strike

Baghdad, oil giants on alert against Syria strike

ARBIL / LONDON - Reuters
Baghdad and foreign oil companies at work in Iraq’s giant oilfields are adopting extra security measures in anticipation of retaliatory attacks if the United States strikes neighboring Syria, industry sources said.

Car bombs and other attacks in recent weeks have led to the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis as the civil war in neighboring Syria aggravates deep-rooted sectarian divisions.

So far the violence in Iraq has not hit the operations of companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Eni and Royal Dutch Shell or deterred them from increasing oil output and turning Iraq into OPEC’s second-biggest producer.

Since 2010, these companies have been reviving the southern fields near the oil hub of Basra, helping raise output by 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 3 million bpd, and they want to carry on expanding output without incident. As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Iraq’s South Oil Co (SOC), which oversees operations around Basra, has warned Western oilmen to restrict their movements.

“After the fears of the Syria strike, we have notified all foreign companies: British, American and others, to reduce their movements inside the city,” an SOC source said.

Keeping heads down

Not only will Western firms keep a low profile, they are also likely to cut their exposure to risks in Iraq.

“I think all Western companies will be careful not to have too many people in Iraq as long as the American war games last,” a senior oil executive in Baghdad said. The Wall Street Journal reported on that the United States had intercepted an order from an Iranian official instructing militants in Iraq to attack U.S. interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike.

An Iraqi Shi’ite militia group also has threatened to attack U.S. interests in Iraq and the region if Washington strikes Syria.

The Ministry of Oil requires foreign oil companies to have representative offices in Baghdad, where bombings and attacks are killing scores of Iraqis on nearly a daily basis.