ExxonMobil staff to return to work near Iraq border with Iran
Foreign employees of US oil giant ExxonMobil will return to work near Iraq’s border with Iran after the government agreed to provide extra security, the Iraqi oil ministry said.
"ExxonMobil accepted that the 83 employees evacuated will resume their posts from Sunday," ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told the AFP news agency.
He said Iraqi authorities, which had criticised the withdrawal as political, have taken "the necessary security measures for their return".
Exxon asked for extra security from the police and army at work sites and residences and Iraq agreed, ministry officials told the Reuters news agency. The company has received letters of assurance from the Iraqi oil ministry and Basra Oil Company.
Staff at Iraq's West Qurna 1 oil field were evacuated two weeks ago and flown to Dubai as tensions mounted between Iran and the US, which last year pulled out out of the landmark 2015 nuclear pact with Iran.
The evacuation came just days after the United States withdrew non-essential staff from its embassy in Baghdad, citing a threat from neighbouring Iran, which has close ties to Iraqi Shia militia.
The US had also deployed an aircraft carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in the face of what it said was an "imminent" threat posed by Tehran-linked militants.
Exxon Mobil is the lead contractor in a long-term deal with Iraq's South Oil Company to develop and renovate the oil field and increase production.
Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban at the time called the evacuation "unacceptable and unjustified” and wrote to ExxonMobil asking for the company to immediately return to work at the southern oil field.
Oil ministry spokesman Jihad insisted that the absence of the foreign workers had not affected production as the bulk of the workforce is Iraqi.
Production remained at 440,000 barrels per day (bpd), and Iraqi officials later said they would increase it to 490,000 bpd shortly.