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Iraq: Big Oil deals could clear late-March

  |   March 6, 2008 at 6:44 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- Iraq will wind up negotiations with five Big Oil firms later this month on key fields and soon announce the firms that qualify for an upcoming bidding round.

Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad also confirmed to United Press International via phone the country's Council of Ministers gave its blessing to the ministry's plans.

"The Ministry of Oil has the legal situation to sign contracts according to the oil law," Jihad said. "The Ministry of Oil has that ability."

Later this month Iraqi negotiators will meet with representatives from Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total for technical support contracts aimed at increasing five of Iraq's largest and oldest fields by 100,000 barrels per day each. The two-year deals are intended to bring equipment, training and further studies.

Jihad said Iraq is considering paying the companies with oil in lieu of cash but is in talks with the United Nations to ensure that's OK.

More than 70 companies, Jihad said -- around 150, according to Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani -- have registered to qualify for a bidding round to be held later this month aimed at developing a number of other fields. The ministry is scarce on details but said it will be fully transparent.

Iraq has no new oil law -- relying on the Saddam-era oil regulation -- and plenty of controversy; both are preventing any long-term deals with international oil companies.

Saddam Hussein mismanaged the fields, U.N. sanctions kept out modern equipment, and post-2003 has seen the oil sector attempt to operate in a constant war zone, despite having the world's third-largest reserves.

Iraq's oil workers have kept the country producing just more than 2 million barrels per day. Once largely Western-educated in the oil sector, those who haven't retired, fled or been killed need modern training. They also are urging the government to reinvest in them instead of a wholesale import of international oil companies.

Iraq's Kurdish region has passed its own oil law and signed dozens of deals for exploration after frustrations with Baghdad came to a head.

Jihad also said Shahristani is in Turkey meeting with his counterpart to plan development of Iraq's natural gas sector.

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Ben Lando, UPI Energy Editor

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(e-mail: blando@upi.com)

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