Pro-Hamas militiamen in Iraq halt oil supplies to Jordan

Western official says stoppage constitutes Iranian intimidation of the kingdom during the Gaza war

Supporters of pro-Iranian Iraqi militias on the way to Iraq's main border crossing with Jordan on October 20. Reuters
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Border unrest has forced oil supplies from Iraq to Jordan to stop, authorities in the two countries said on Thursday, in a new regional development caused by the Israel-Gaza war.

Iraqi militiamen supported by Iran and other Tehran loyalists, numbering several hundred, have been protesting near the border crossing of Trebel, with government support, since October 20, demanding access to travel through Jordan to fight against Israel.

The oil volumes, sourced from the northern Kirkuk fields and transported by tanker through the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, are minimal, compared with Jordan's overall energy imports.

But they are a barometer of ties between the two countries.

An Iraqi oil ministry official said the authorities in Baghdad are talking with people linked to the protest – who he did not name – “to allow these trucks to cross the border".

“We expect the issue will be resolved soon,” he told The National.

The relationship between Jordan and Iraq deteriorated with the Iran-supported Shiite political ascendancy that followed the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Since then, the movement of Iraqi oil has often been blocked, depending on the status of political ties between Amman and Baghdad.

Baghdad is widely seen in Amman and other Middle East capitals as having become a satellite of Iran in the past decade, with militias in Iraq and Syria attacking US and other targets.

These attacks have increased since the Gaza war started.

Tehran has been calling for Israel to be attacked from all sides in support of Hamas, the Tehran-backed militant group that began the war with a surprise raid on Israel on October 7.

But its militia allies have avoided waging sustained warfare, so far. Some Iranian officials in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have also said they may directly attack Israel if the war continues.

Jordanian authorities have angrily called for halt in the Israeli operation on Gaza, which is supported by Washington. But they have avoided any criticism of the United States.

Another Iraqi official said that the militiamen amassed at Trebil “only want to draw attention to themselves”, and constitute no threat to Jordan.

The kingdom is a major recipient of US aid and has a military agreement with Washington. Its 310km border with Israel is governed by a 1994 peace treaty. The Jordanian-Iraqi border is 180km long.

A western official said that the militia border deployment is “an Iranian message to Jordan”.

“This is how the Iranians apply pressure,” said the official, who is on a visit to Amman and did not want to be named. "It is a warning that Jordan is not immune to infiltration."

“All you have to do is look at the map and see that Jordan is in the way between Israel and Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria.”

The Iraqi oil, which amounts to 10,000 barrels per day, constitutes 7 per cent to 10 per cent of Jordan’s consumption, a Jordanian Energy Ministry official said.

The rest of Jordan’s oil needs are imported overland from Saudi Arabia, which will cover any drop in oil imports, he said.

The official said that the oil tankers have been forced to go back to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province this week to protect “the safety of the drivers and the trucks”.

He said the kingdom’s strategic reserve of crude oil amounts to 44 days of consumption, while the oil products reserves would last for two months.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 4:45 AM