Several wells in Iraq’s Qayyara oilfield continue to burn six weeks after US-backed Iraqi forces ousted Islamic State (ISIS) militants, the Ministry of Oil said on Wednesday. The oilfield was seized as part of a wider push towards Mosul, the de facto capital of ISIS in Iraq.
ISIS militants torched oil wells in the region to help conceal their positions before fleeing ahead of the government’s advance, sending black smoke into the sky and oil pouring into main thoroughfares.
Government efforts to put out the remaining oil fires are being hampered by ISIS shelling, and around nine of 15 wells are still ablaze, Ministry of Oil spokesman Asim Jihad said.
“[The fires] are creating pollution and presenting serious health risks,” according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
“Efforts to quell the flames have been impeded […] by several attempted attacks by armed groups, which also threaten the safety and sustainability of returns,” UNHCR said, referring to refugees trying to move back to their homes. Thousands of Iraqis were displaced when ISIS overran Iraq’s western Governorates in 2014.
The Qayyara and Najma oilfields used to produce up to 30,000 barrels of heavy crude per day before they fell under the control of ISIS jihadists.
The Ministry of Oil said on August 30 that it did not expect to resume regional production before the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Mosul is 60 km due north of Qayyara.
Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to take back Mosul before the end of this year and the offensive could start as soon as this month, according to local military commanders.