Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) A high-stakes dispute over a tanker carrying $100 million in Iraqi Kurdish crude took a surprising turn on Tuesday when a U.S. judge said she lacked jurisdiction given the ship’s distance from the Texas shore and urged that the case be settled in Iraq.
Federal magistrate Nancy K. Johnson said that because the tanker was some 60 miles (100 km) offshore, and outside territorial waters, an order she issued late on Monday for U.S. Marshals to seize the cargo could not be enforced. She said the dispute between Iraq’s central government and the autonomous region of Kurdistan should be resolved in Iraq.
Overnight Johnson signed an order directing the marshals to seize the 1 million barrels of crude from the United Kalavrvta tanker anchored in the Gulf of Mexico. Tuesday she scheduled a conference to give the two sides a chance to state their case.
The ship could simply sail away, though it also could offload its cargo for delivery to another U.S. Gulf of Mexico port outside of Texas, lawyers said.
Baghdad’s lawyers had laid claim to the oil in a lawsuit filed on Monday, saying Kurdistan sold the crude without permission from the central government.
The latest dispute over exports reflects Iraqi Kurds’ emboldened steps toward seizing greater political and economic autonomy, with oil sales seen as central to Kurdish dreams of independence that Baghdad opposes.
While the sides fought the legal battle in Houston, they pressed the political fight in the courtroom of public opinion.
Iraq warned companies against trying to buy other shipments of Kurdish crude after it won the seizure order, while Kurdish leaders asserted their right to sell the oil but said they would face obstacles.
“The Ministry of Oil in Baghdad continues to interfere directly and indirectly with Kurdistan Regional Government oil sales,” said Karwan Zebari, an official with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representation in Washington.
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