Southern Iraq safe for energy workers, says Basra oil chief

Ihsan Ismaael said Exxon Mobile’s evacuation of some workers had not affected output

FILE PHOTO: A member of security foreign personnel stays guard next to Exxon's foreign staff and Iraqi staff of the West Qurna-1 oilfield, which is operated by ExxonMobil, during the opening ceremony near Basra, Iraq June 17, 2019.  REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani/File Photo
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Production from Iraq’s southern oil fields remained unaffected following a rocket attack, which led to the evacuation of dozens of foreign workers by US major Exxon Mobil, according to the head of the state-owned Basra Oil Company.

Ihsan Ismaael insisted that southern Iraq was safe for foreign oil workers and said negotiations were underway to bring back the Exxon Mobil staff who left for Dubai following a couple of attacks in the last month.

Exxon Mobil is the lead contractor in West Qurna, one of Iraq’s largest oil fields, west of the southern province of Basra.

Mr Ismaael said the central government was, however, taking steps to ensure security would hold.

Ten days ago a rocket landed at the Basra headquarters of a number of major companies – including Exxon – and reportedly injured three Iraqis It led to the US company evacuating its foreign workers.

In May, Exxon withdrew around 60 workers, mostly US nationals, after Washington order non-emergency personnel to leave Iraq citing unspecified threats. Some had begun to filter back to Basra after increased security measures but left again following the rocket attack.

Speaking at London’s CWC Iraq Petroleum Conference Mr Ismaael said he could see the concern from international oil companies but insisted “everything is fine” in the southern oil fields.

He said the foreign Exxon staff evacuated to Dubai were in continuous contact with the West Qurna field,

“No, there is no impact on the production. I think there is no direct affect,” said Mr Ismaael.

‘There is some focusing of the central government to keep the investment environment of the oil and gas sector as safe as possible,” he added.

Iraq’s oil minister Thamir Ghadhban had slammed Exxon’s decision to remove some staff in May following US warnings, insisting there was no reason to withdraw and that no other foreign company had done so.

The minister’s confidence in local security was echoed by one expert at the London conference.

‘In five years we’ve never had to raise our security levels,” said Basra Gateway Terminal chief executive Phillip Marsham.