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Iran Says Iraq Border Incident A 'Misunderstanding'

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast: "It is a technical and expert issue..."
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran today described a border incident with Iraq, which caused oil prices to rise late last week, as a "misunderstanding" and called for experts from both countries to look into border demarcation issues.

The statement came two days after Iraqi officials said Iranian troops had withdrawn partially from a disputed oil area claimed by both Tehran and Baghdad, possibly defusing a border feud straining the two neighbors' ties.

"Our stance has been crystal was a misunderstanding," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference in comments translated by English-language state television.

Saying the two countries' foreign ministers had reached an "understanding" in a phone conversation on December 19, he added a committee should be formed to look into border demarcation issues between Iran and Iraq, which fought a 1980-88 war.

"We think it is a technical and expert issue and the experts of both sides should sit down and look into...specifying the border areas between the two countries so that such misunderstandings are removed," he said.

On December 20, Iraq's government spokesman said a group of Iranian troops who had taken over an oil well in a remote region along the Iran-Iraq border last week were no longer in control of the well, which Iraq considers part of its Fakka oil field.

A border official in Iran was quoted on the same day as saying Iranian forces had returned to their original position after dismantling a barricade built by Iraqi soldiers near the disputed oil well.

Global oil prices climbed on December 18 following initial media reports that Iranian troops had commandeered an Iraqi oil well.

Iran and Iraq have a long history of border feuds, including one that escalated into the eight-year war in the 1980s.

The relationship warmed after Sunni Arab Saddam Hussein's ousting in 2003, when Shi'ites took over in Baghdad and trade and religious tourism picked up. Iran is also a predominantly Shi'ite Muslim state.

According to Iraqis, the well is one of seven that comprise Fakka, a relatively small field that now produces about 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Iraqi officials say the well in question has only been operative briefly, before the Iran-Iraq war.

Iran says the well falls within Iranian borders.

"The best solution is...for the experts to sit down and investigate the issue," Mehmanparast said.

"A committee will review the demarcation and the border lines to remove any possible misunderstanding and to find solutions to that," he said.