Iraqi forces seize territory from Kurds in independence dispute

Iraqi forces drive towards Kurdish Peshmerga positions on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on Sunday. Baghdad has been turning the screws on the Kurdish region since a September independence referendum, pushing Kurd leaders to disavow the vote and accept shared administration over Kirkuk. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017
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Iraqi forces seize territory from Kurds in independence dispute

KIRKUK, Iraq: Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters Monday near the disputed city of Kirkuk, seizing a key military base and other territory in a major operation sparked by a controversial independence referendum.
The offensive, which follows weeks of soaring tensions between two US allies in the battle against the Daesh group, aims to retake oil fields and military bases that Kurdish forces seized during the fightback against the jihadists.
Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of Kirkuk, the capital of the oil-rich province, after the launch of the operation overnight.
In a major advance, Iraq's Joint Operations Command said central government forces took control of the K1 military base northwest of the city -- the first objective of the offensive -- following the withdrawal of peshmerga fighters.
They also seized bridges, roads and an industrial zone to the southwest of Kirkuk, as well as gas facilities, a power station, a refinery and a police station, it said.
The clashes follow an armed standoff between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army prompted by the September 25 non-binding referendum that produced a resounding "yes" for independence for the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Baghdad has declared the referendum -- held despite international opposition -- illegal.
Crisis talks on Sunday had made little headway in resolving the standoff, which has raised fears of fresh chaos just as Daesh jihadists are on the verge of losing their last strongholds in the country.
State television announced that government troops had taken "large areas" of the province from Kurdish forces "without fighting".
Military sources on both sides however reported exchange of Katyusha rocket fire to the south of the provincial capital.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said this week that he was "not going... to make war on our Kurdish citizens", has "given orders to armed forces to take over security in Kirkuk," state television said.
Iraqi troops will "secure bases and government facilities in Kirkuk province" the government said.
Multiple peshmerga fighters were injured in the clashes and hospitalised in Kirkuk, a local security source said.
Abadi said that members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation forces, which are dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, would stay away from Kirkuk, where there have been multiple demonstrations against their involvement in the dispute.
An AFP photographer saw columns of Iraqi troops heading towards Kirkuk from the south.
Two people were killed in artillery exchanges at Tuz Khurmatu, 75 kilometres south of Kirkuk, a doctor at a city hospital said.
On Sunday, Iraq's National Security Council said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure which were under their control before their troops withdrew in the face of hostility from the jihadists.
On the fringes of the town, they used loudspeakers to call on the peshmerga to give up their positions, local sources said.
Long claimed by the Kurds as part of their historic territory, the province has emerged as the main flashpoint in the dispute.
Polling during the referendum was held not only in the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdish region but also in adjacent Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk, that are claimed by both Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurds control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province that produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports.
The fields would provide crucial revenue to Baghdad, which has been left cash-strapped from the global fall in oil prices and three years of battle against Daesh. Iraq is also demanding the return of a military base and a nearby airport, according to the Kurds.


Saudi Arabia’s up-and-coming energy park set to transform KSA into a global industrial powerhouse

Situated in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, between Dammam and Al-Ahsa, the project will be developed in three phases. (Supplied)
Updated 12 December 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s up-and-coming energy park set to transform KSA into a global industrial powerhouse

  • The first phase is scheduled for completion by 2021
  • SPARK will localize more than 300 new industrial services and facilities and will have specialized training centers to cater to the huge influx of manpower

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is fast catching up with the world’s ever-growing energy and technology scene ahead of 2030. In fact, the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK) may soon prove a global destination for energy industry investors.

The new energy city mega-project is being developed by Saudi Aramco, which received authoritization to embark on the initiative in the summer, and is operated, managed and maintained in partnership with the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON). 

With projections that the megacity will create more than 100,000 jobs, it is considered one of the most up-and-coming energy parks in the world.

SPARK will localize more than 300 new industrial services and facilities and will have specialized training centers to cater to the huge influx of manpower.

Situated in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, between Dammam and Al-Ahsa, the project will be developed in three phases. 

The first phase is scheduled for completion by 2021, while the final phase of the project is set for completion in 2035. With all this on track, the 50-square-kilometer project is poised to be a magnet for foreign and domestic investment. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the King Salman Energy Park at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) on Monday. (SPA)

What’s more, Aramco’s espousal of SPARK will also help businesses indulge in technological development, manufacturing and exports channels and build a world-class energy supply chain. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the King Salman Energy Park at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) on Monday.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Energy Minister and Aramco Chairman Khalid Al-Falih declared SPARK a special economic zone (SEZ) in which businesses can enjoy exclusive benefits. 

“We are looking forward to collaborating with our first anchor partners at SPARK,” said Saudi Aramco President and CEO, Amin Nasser.

SPARK has already attracted investment from foreign and local companies to produce and manufacture goods and services. The first phase of the project is expected to cost about $1.6 billion. 

The park is set to attract industrial investors in the water, power, petrochemical and wastewater sectors, among others. 

Facilities at SPARK will also help investors bridge gaps in local production back home, increasing competition in the long run. 

“This energy city is exciting because it brings together a multitude of businesses,” Mark McCollum, president and CEO of Weatherford Corp, told SPARK.

“We firmly believe that collaboration and cooperation among service companies and individual providers to the energy sector is vital in breaking new ground.”

The King Salman Energy Park is also set to promote small and medium-sized enterprises. With focus on energy production, it also provides opportunities for investment in residential and commercial real estate projects.

Nasser said that the “King Salman Energy Park will spur a new era of growth for one of the Kingdom’s already thriving sectors. What’s more, it will serve as a central gateway to the region’s economies since Aramco is at the heart of the global oil and gas industry.”