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January 31, 2015

IS seizes Iraq oil field, 15 workers missing

A small oil field near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk was stormed on Saturday by Islamic State insurgents.

KIRKUK - Islamic State insurgents on Saturday seized a small crude oil station near the Iraqi city Kirkuk, where 15 employees were working, as explosions in and around the capital Baghdad killed at least nine people.

The fifteen oil workers from state-run North Oil Co were confirmed missing after company officials say they lost contact with them when militants seized a crude oil separation unit in Khabbaz.

"We received a call from one of the workers saying dozens of Daesh fighters were surrounding the facility and asking workers to leave the premises. We lost contact and now the workers might be taken hostage," an engineer from the North Oil Co told Reuters, using a derogatory acronym for Islamic State.   

Last summer, the radical jihadist movement seized at least four small oilfields as it overran large areas of northern Iraq and began selling crude oil and gasoline to finance their operations.

On Friday, Islamic State insurgents attacked regional Kurdish forces southwest of Kirkuk, seizing some areas including parts of the Khabbaz oilfields.

Kurdish military sources said peshmerga forces sought to push back Islamic State in further fighting near Khabbaz on Saturday.

Khabbaz is a small oilfield 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Kirkuk with a maximum production capacity of 15,000 barrels per day. Before the attack, it was producing around 10,000 bpd before the attack.

Further south, in areas surrounding Baghdad, two bombs killed at least seven civilians on Saturday, medics and police said.

A bomb exploded close to an army patrol near Taji, a predominantly Sunni Muslim rural district north of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and leaving at least 24 others wounded. 

In Falluja, hospital sources said five people, including two children, were killed during Iraqi army shelling of Islamic State positions. At least 44 others were wounded, including 19 civilians, they said. 

Reports from hospitals in the area, which is mostly controlled by Islamic State militants, have been difficult to confirm. 

Islamic State has declared a medieval-style caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria to rule over all Muslims, posing the biggest challenge to the stability of OPEC member Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.