BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Several wells in Iraq’s Qayyara oilfield continue to burn six weeks after the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces ousted Islamic State militants from the town as part of their push on the IS stronghold of Mosul, the oil ministry said on Wednesday.
The militants torched oil wells in the region to help conceal their positions before fleeing ahead of the government advance into Qayyara, 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 Islamic State shelling, and around nine of 15 wells were still ablaze, oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said.
The fires “are creating pollution and presenting serious health risks”, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in an update on the Mosul region.
“Efforts to quell the flames have been impeded reportedly 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 homes from which they fled when Islamic State overran the northern Iraqi region in 2014.
Its two main oilfields, Qayyara and Najma, used to produce up to 30,000 barrels per day of heavy crude before it fell under control of the ultra-hardline jihadists.
The oil ministry said on Aug. 30 that it did not expect to resume production from the region before the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city 60 km (40 miles) north of Qayyara.
Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to take back Mosul before the end of this year and the push on the city could start as soon as this month, according to local military commanders.
Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli
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