Iranian troops entered Iraq and seized an oil well in a disputed area along the countries’ border.
The move came last night in the al-Fakkah oil field, about 200 miles south-east of Baghdad deputy foreign minister Mohammed Haj Mahmoud, said today.
The field is shared between Iran and Iraq, and both are able to pump oil from it, but the Iraqis consider the seized oil well to be theirs.
In Washington a US official said that although Iranians have crossed the border before, they had not previously ventured as far.
Iraqi security forces were in the area, but there were no reports of fighting, he said.
Similar incidents have happened before along the Iran-Iraq border, which was never clearly delineated after the war between the two countries in the 1980s.
Last year, the Iraqi Oil Ministry accused Iran of stealing oil from the al-Fakkah field and of illegally seizing and capping wells in a second field that Iraq claims lies entirely within its territory.
The two adjacent oil fields – Abu Gharb, which Iraq claims in its entirety, and al-Fakkah, the shared field – both lie in Maysan province.
The deputy foreign minister said he did not know whether the Iranians were still in control of the oil well.
According to Iraq’s state-run Iraqiya television, the National Security Council, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was meeting to discuss the issue.
Iraq has an estimated 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves – the world’s third largest, behind Saudi Arabia and Iran.
But years of neglect, war and insurgency have left the oil fields performing far below what they’re capable of. Iraq has been trying to attract international investment to develop its oil industry, including a round of international bidding last week that produced seven deals on the 15 fields offered. The al-Fakkah field was not one of them.