A Kuwaiti project to drill an oil deposit shared with Iraq has sparked outrage in Iraq's southern oil province of Basra, where the Iraqi side of the shared cross-border deposit is located.
Local politicians in Basra said Kuwaiti work on the Ratqa field, an extension of Iraq's supergiant Rumaila field, could tap into Iraq's reserves. Kuwait denies it is anything but routine work.
Iraq has not signed bilateral agreements on protocol for developing the fields crossing or near the border with its neighbors, which has prompted diplomatic controversies with neighbors, including Iran in December.
The head of Basra's provincial council, Jabar Ameen al-Latif, alleged that drilling was taking place around 180 meters from the Iraqi border.
"We call for the federal government to close the borders issue," Latif said, "to avoid many border problems which appear from time to time between Iraq and neighboring countries, especially Iran and Kuwait."
He said the Basra province government had sent a delegation to Kuwait calling for diplomatic resolution to these problems instead of unilateral drilling.
Basra oil expert Abdul Jabar al-Haifi said countries that share joint deposits have the right to drill wells inside its own borders because Iraq has not signed any agreements on managing any shared fields.
"It is like the situation between Iraq and Turkey about water," he said. "There is no obligation on Turkey about the amount of water it gives to Iraq," referring to the ongoing debate between Iraq and its upstream neighbor on distribution of water resources.
However, there are concerns that because Kuwait has better equipment than Iraq, it will be better able to exploit the joint deposit.
Kuwait's ambassador in Iraq, Ali al-Mumim, however denied that any new projects had begun. He said that routine maintenance work was being carried out on the Ratqa field.
"This oil field is a developed and a producing field. The work on this field has been ongoing for a long time," he said.
He went on to say that the wells being maintained were more than 180 meters from the border. He also said that there had been meetings of Iraqi and Kuwaiti committees to discuss cross-border oil wells, and that a proposal had been made for each side to drill only 250 meters or more from the border.
"But, so far, the Iraqi side has not responded to this," he said.
The Oil Ministry declined to comment on the issue when contacted by the Iraq Oil Report. The issue of oil fields on or near the border is a thorny one. After the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, borders including areas with oil fields were never clearly redrawn. A dispute over the Fauqi (aka Fakka) field on the border in December 2009 became stand-off involving mobilization of Iranian and Iraqi soldiers.
The Kuwait border dispute will have loud resonance in Iraq. In 1990, Iraqi accusations that Kuwait was using slant drilling to tap Iraqi oil were part of the build-up to the surprise Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of that year.