Arbil, Baghdad in war of words on oil deals

Arbil, Baghdad in war of words on oil deals

Arbil, Baghdad in war of words on oil deals

Iraqi PM al-Maliki warns of war if defiant regional Kurdish leadership goes ahead with an Exxon oil deal. REUTERS photo

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned yesterday of a possible “war” over oil fields after ExxonMobil and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed an exploration deal. The KRG, however, issued an immediate rebuttal, saying it expected more oil majors to follow Exxon in the next few months in striking deals in the region.

“Al-Maliki views these deals as representing a very dangerous initiative that may lead to the outbreak of wars or the breakup of the unity of Iraq,” said the prime minister’s spokesman, Ali Mussawi.

ExxonMobil has signed an oil exploration deal with the Kurdish region in northern Iraq covering six areas, including two that are said to be outside the region and claimed by both Baghdad and the administration. The central government says all oil contracts must go through Baghdad and regards any that do not as illegal.

“Al-Maliki is prepared to go to the highest levels for the sake of preserving national wealth and the necessary transparency in investing the wealth of the Iraqis, especially oil,” Mussawi said.

The premier “sent a message to American President Barak Obama last week urging him to intervene to prevent ExxonMobil from going in this direction.” Exxon and KRG inked the exploration deal on Oct. 18, 2011. Baghdad has since said the deal is frozen, which the government has denied.

The KRG has hailed the appearance of majors on its territory. “The market is very buoyant in Kurdistan. We have a lot of majors circling around looking at new production-sharing contracts and certainly mergers and acquisitions,” KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami told an energy conference in London yesterday.

French major Total is looking to secure a package of exploration blocks in the region, and Norway’s Statoil is also looking closely at KRG exploration blocks, industry sources have said.

“So in the next few months, we expect to see another two or three major companies coming and working in Kurdistan,” Hawrami said.

KRG leader Masoud Barzani has been locked in a standoff with Baghdad for months, one of a series of intertwined political crises which have escalated into calls for al-Maliki to be removed from power. The KRG refused to hand over fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to Baghdad for trial after he fled to the region in December 2011 before permitting him to leave on a regional tour that took him to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Al-Hashemi trial continues

As tension continues between the KRG and al-Maliki, police and army officers told a court they found a pistol silencer in the home of al-Hashemi in the latest round of his trial.

Al-Hashemi, who is being tried in absentia, is accused of running death squads made up of bodyguards who allegedly carried out bombings and shootings against Shiites.

Witnesses, three police and two army officers said they had raided al-Hashemi’s Baghdad home in April after he fled and found a silencer for a pistol. A separate raid in February on the home of his son-in-law and office manager, Ahmed Qahtan, turned up another silencer, they testified.

In earlier testimony, al-Hashemi’s former bodyguards told the court that Qahtan had given them guns with silencers and told them to assassinate an army brigadier general. The next court session is scheduled for July 8.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.