A $100 million cargo of crude oil in a tanker near Texas was legally shipped and sold by Kurdistan, lawyers for the autonomous region in Iraq told a U.S. court in a letter seen on Thursday, saying Baghdad has no right to the barrels.
They also told the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas that it has no jurisdiction over Kurdish affairs.
Baghdad, in a lawsuit filed with the court earlier this week, said that only it has the authority to export oil under Iraq's constitution, a view that autonomous Kurdistan government rejects.
"The oil cargo in question belonged to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) before it was legally shipped and sold pursuant to KRG's authority under the 2005 Iraqi Constitution and subsequent Kurdistan law," said the letter, which did not identify the buyer of the cargo.
Payments for such shipments are typically made some 30 days after delivery and it is unclear if the buyer will ever receive the cargo.
The U.S. court has ordered the cargo be seized if the oil comes ashore, but the 1 million barrels aboard the United Kalavrvta tanker have been anchored in the Gulf of Mexico since Saturday, outside of U.S territorial waters.
The standoff is the latest dispute over 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.
(Reporting By Terry Wade in Houston; Additional reporting by Julia Payne in London and Michael Georgy)