International firms evacuate staff from Iraq via UAE



International firms are evacuating staff from Iraq through the UAE, amid increasing instability and violence in the country.

However businesses operating from the Kurdish region of Iraq, so far largely unaffected by the crisis, are staying put for the moment.

The private air carrier Chapman Freeborn, which has an office in Dubai, said yesterday that it had evacuated an undisclosed number of individuals from Baghdad to the UAE, via three 737 passenger flights on Friday, and executive aircraft on Sunday and Monday.

The company declined to disclose which companies had evacuated their staff, and said that it was working on further evacuation flights out of the region in the coming days.

The escalating conflict in Iraq does not appear to have affected the operations of UAE businesses in the Kurdish region in the north of the country.

"We have not evacuated staff," said a spokesman for Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa), which has extensive oil and gas interests in the region.

“Our operations at the Atrush block and offices in Erbil remain unaffected by the events. We are monitoring the security situation in Iraq together with our government partners.”

Sharjah's Dana Gas yesterday said that its operations in the Kurdish region were "uninterrupted in light of recent events in Iraq.

“All our facilities and people are safe and there have been no incidents affecting our operations.”

The Iraqi embassy in Abu Dhabi said that Iraq’s government had not issued guidance for companies regarding evacuations or cessations of operations in the country.

“The situation in Iraq is not stable – it’s so dangerous,” an embassy spokesman said yesterday. “But Erbil [in the Kurdish region] is relatively safe.”

The Iraqi ministry of oil did not respond to requests for comment.

ISIL has seized Sunni-majority cities from Mosul to Fallujah, 69 kilometres from Baghdad, while the Kurdistan Regional Government had deployed troops to oil-rich Kirkuk. So far, ISIL has not seriously challenged the territorial integrity of the Kurdish region, which boasts a 190,000-strong armed service.

The US and Australia both confirmed that they had withdrawn from their embassies in Baghdad, while the United Nations confirmed that it had relocated 58 staff to Jordan.

The Turkish energy minister, Taner Yildiz, said that his country’s oil supplies had not been affected by the situation. “Oil flow goes on now but in the upcoming period whether [this] will be interrupted or not is not foreseeable”, according to Andalou Agency, the Turkish state news service.

ISIL has not yet entered the oil-rich south, where local militias and a Shia majority are likely to hinder its advance.

Analysts from IHS Energy, a research consultancy, said: “Iraq’s main producing fields in the south will remain secure for now. However, the militants could seize control of pipelines or other infrastructure links in the oil supply chain. We do not consider this a high threat at present, but such infrastructure, as well as producing assets, will be a tempting target if the ISIS offensive moves into higher gear.”

abouyamourn@thenational.ae

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