Iraq says Exxon deals with Kurds may stand

Iraq says Exxon deals with Kurds may stand

BAGHDAD - The Associated Press
Iraq says Exxon deals with Kurds may stand

Oil contracts should meet Baghdad’s approval, says Hussain Al-Shahristani. AP photo

Iraq may be open to letting Exxon Mobil keep some of its disputed oil deals in the self-ruled Kurdish region if they and similar contracts meet Baghdad’s approval, Iraq’s top energy official said Apr. 12.

Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani said Iraq has received assurances from Exxon that it will not begin working in the autonomous northern territory for now to give the federal government and the Kurds a chance “to resolve their differences.” Al-Shahristani’s comments, made during an interview with The Associated Press, suggest Baghdad is softening its opposition to the deals signed by the world’s largest publicly traded energy company.

“The Ministry of Oil has decided to give them some time on the condition that they don’t start any work on the ground,” he said.

Officials have previously said Irving, Texas-based Exxon agreed to freeze the Kurdish contract, but did not say what that meant in practice. They have not yet made good on threats to blacklist it from future deals. Al-Shahristani said Exxon’s agreement and dozens of similar Kurdish oil contracts might be recognized by Iraq’s government if authorities in Baghdad are allowed to review and possibly amend them, with Cabinet approval.

Kurdish region
“These differences have to be sorted out, and the sooner the better,” he said. “The federal government is willing to engage in serious discussions with the (Kurdish regional government) and review any contract that has been signed.”

Exxon’s contract with the Kurds allows it to explore in six patches in northern Iraq, including land claimed by both the Kurds and Arabs in Ninevah province.

What is not up for negotiation, al-Shahristani stressed, are the three oil exploration blocks in disputed territory. Only the three zones wholly in Kurdish control might be eligible for Baghdad’s blessing.

A senior official in the Kurdish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources said April 12 the region’s contracts with Exxon are still valid, speaking on condition of anonymity. Exxon’s agreement with the Kurds sparked fury in Baghdad when it was announced in November.