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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq to exclude Russia from oil deals

RIA Novosti

20/06/2008 11:26 WASHINGTON, June 20 (RIA Novosti) - The Iraqi government is to sign over 30 contracts for lucrative oil deals with major Western oil companies before the end of June, leaving Russian companies out in the cold, a U.S. daily has cited a spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry as saying.

The two-year, no-bid contracts will be awarded to companies that have been acting in advisory roles to the Iraqi Oil Ministry in recent years. Five oil companies- the U.S.-based Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total and the British oil company BP- are expected to secure the biggest contracts to develop Iraq's vast oil resources.

Their offers defeated offers from companies based in Russia, China and India.

"We have had discussions since last year. The discussions have now ended," Asim Jihad told the Washington Post.

He also revealed that the contracts would be presented to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet in the next few days and that the contracts may be announced by June 30. He declined however to provide further details on the nature of the deals.

In mid-February, Russia wrote off $12 billion, or 93%, of Iraq's debt to Russia, a move widely rumored to be aimed at securing lucrative oil contracts. Shortly after the announcement, Russia's largest independent crude producer LUKoil said it hoped to regain the right to develop Iraq's giant West Qurna-2 oil field.

However, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that Baghdad welcomed Russian companies interested in doing business in the country, but would not offer them special privileges.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the Iraqi government hoped to increase oil production "by half a million barrels per day by attracting modern technology and expertise to oil fields desperately short of both."

Iraq has oil reserves of an estimated 115 billion barrels and it also has an estimated 112 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, according to the Oil Ministry.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that Washington was not involved in negotiations to secure the deals. Opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 have long claimed that the war was about securing access to Iraqi oil rather than any attempt to destroy the 'weapons of mass destruction' allegedly possessed by the regime of the late Saddam Hussein.

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