BAGHDAD — Iraq deployed security forces Saturday near a remote oil well seized by Iran, officials said, and its government pressed Tehran to withdraw its forces from the area along the disputed southern border.
U.S. officials applauded Iraq for standing its ground against Iran — an uneasy ally that analysts said was aiming to remind its neighbor of its economic and political pull in its takeover of the oil well Thursday. The site is located in one of the largest oil fields in Iraq and has about 1.5 billion barrels in reserves.
The standoff was a dramatic display of the occasionally tense relations between the two oil-rich nations that fought an eight-year war in the 1980s but now share common ground in Shiite-led governments.
"Again, we ask Iran to be committed to the good relations that they announced with Iraq and its nation, and to withdraw its forces immediately," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Al-Arabiyah TV.
In a statement, the Iranian military denied it violated Iraq's sovereignty and cited a 1975 border agreement in claiming the oil well as part of Iran's territory.
"Our forces are on our own soil and, based on the known international borders, this well belongs to Iran," the Iranian military said in a statement to Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam satellite television.
Iraqi army and police reinforcements were sent to a staging ground about a half-mile from well No. 4 at the al-Fakkah oil field, according to two Iraqi officials close to the site. Both spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
One of the Iraqi officials said Iranian soldiers came and went from the oil well throughout Saturday. They were gone by the evening, leaving behind an Iranian flag, the official said.
The standoff spurred an emergency meeting of Iraq's national security council and high-level diplomatic talks between Baghdad and Tehran. U.S. officials, already worried about Iran's growing influence in the region, praised what they described as Baghdad's quick but measured response to the dispute.
"It does speak to the overall view here that they are not going to be pushed around by Iran," the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, told reporters.
Adm. Mike Mullen, America's top military official, said the oil well incident must be resolved between Iran and Iraq, and there were no plans by the United States to intervene.