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Iraq political fight over Kurd oil deals

Jan. 14, 2008 at 3:21 PM   |   Comments

BAGHDAD, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- An Iraq Oil Ministry spokesman says firms that deal with Kurds will be kept out, while a Kurdish parliamentarian calls for the minister's job.

The back-and-forth is the latest in an oil dispute between the Kurdish and central governments over who has the right to set oil policy.

Leaders of Sunni and Shiite Arab political blocs have also made a pact against the Kurds' attempt to fold oil-rich Kirkuk into the official Kurdistan Regional Government territory.

Last week the national Oil Ministry announced a Jan. 31 deadline for companies interested in oil deals Iraq to pre-register.

"The Oil Ministry would not allow international corporations that already signed oil contracts with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to invest in Iraq," Assem Jihad told the Voices of Iraq news agency.

The KRG has passed its own regional oil law and signed dozens of exploration and production contracts with foreign firms. The Kurdistan and national governments disagree on a national oil law that would govern the country's reserves.

The KRG wants a decentralized law, allowing producing regions and provinces to strike deals. Others want oil policy to be set and carried out from Baghdad. Each claims the constitution is on their side and blames the other for stalling the law.

The KRG has little of Iraq's proven reserves but expect to find sizeable amounts. KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami has set medium-term production target of 1 million barrels per day.

The Ministry has called the KRG deals illegal and threatened to blacklist any companies. It notified a South Korean refiner to choose between continued sales of Iraq oil or moving forward as part of a consortium in a KRG deal.

"The Kurdistan Coalition will have to call for changing (Oil Minister Hussain al-)Shahristani if he insists on his position," a Kurdish member of Iraq's Parliament told VOI. The KC is the second largest block in Parliament and is a key member of the current ruling coalition.

Azzaman newspaper reports disaffected political parties, including the Iraqi List, National Dialouge Front, Accord Front and Sadr Movement, signed a memorandum of understanding against the Kurds' oil deals.

It also criticized a plan for the oil-rich northern Kirkuk to be made part of the KRG area.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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