Energy company Exxon Mobil’s evacuation of its foreign staff from a major Iraqi oil field is “unacceptable and unjustified,” Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban said on Sunday.
On Saturday, the US-based firm evacuated 50 US employees from Iraq and flew them to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran, according to sources in the Iraqi oil industry.
In a statement on Sunday, Ghadhban said the evacuations were not due to security threats in Iraq, instead blaming “political reasons, attributed to political tensions in the region”.
“For us, this withdrawal is unacceptable and unjustified because other international companies are working freely and safely in developing oil fields,” he added in a statement.
The 50 evacuees had worked at the West Qurna 1 oil field in Iraq’s southern province of Basra.
The minister said he had asked Exxon Mobil officials for an explanation on evacuations. “I have also asked them to return to work under a long-term contract to develop the West Qurna,” he added.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated as the US deployed a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East, citing an imminent but unexplained threat from Iran.
The US Central Command said US forces in Iraq and neighbouring Syria had been placed on high alert following “credible threats” from Iranian forces in the region, without elaborating on the nature of the threats.