المصدر: البريد الالكتروني 2011/12/04
* Kurdish leader says Iraqi PM had no objection
* Deal is constitutional, Barzani says
* Baghdad has threatened sanctions over Exxon pact
By Rania El Gamal
ARBIL, Iraq, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region will go forward with its exploration deal with U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil despite objections by the central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish president said on Wednesday.
Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was told of the deal prior to its signing and had no objection, and called Baghdad's opposition unconstitutional.
"The contract is not unconstitutional. Yes, we have signed with Exxon Mobil according to the constitution ... the objection that we heard from some officials is what is unconstitutional," he told Reuters in an interview.
"We are committed to the deal and we will execute it without caring about what some officials in Baghdad say, which is against the constitution."
The U.S. oil giant became the first major to move into the northern Kurdish region in mid-October when it signed with the KRG for six exploration blocks.
The Iraqi oil ministry said the deal was illegal and could result in termination of Exxon's contract to develop the major West Qurna Phase One oilfield in the south. Officials later said they were considering sanctions.
Exxon has not commented publicly on the agreement and Iraqi oil officials say the company has not responded to their requests for an explanation.
The deal heightened tensions between Baghdad and Arbil, which have long-running disputes over oil and land, as U.S. troops pull out of Iraq.Iraq territories disputed by the Kurds and the Arab-led government inBaghdad are considered a potential flashpoint for future conflict in Iraq.
Despite the silence from Exxon, the U.S. State Department commented on the deal, saying it hoped Iraq and Exxon could resolve the dispute in a way that would not undercut the future development of Iraqi oil resources.
MALIKI INFORMED, HAD NO OBJECTION
Interviewed at his sprawling hilltop headquarters outside the Kurdish capital, Arbil, Barzani said the Exxon deal would benefit all of Iraq, not just the Kurdish region. He said he was surprised at Baghdad's recent warning against the deal.
"It is strange really, and has no meaning. For us, it doesn't mean anything," he said.
"At the first step, I sent a message to the prime minister and informed him of all the details. The answer I got back was that there was no objection... Before the signing, yes."
The Kurdish president criticised Iraq's oil policy and said Baghdad has been dragging its feet in approving a hydrocarbon draft law that was agreed between the two governments in 2007.
"The oil policy in Iraq is a failed policy, I say it clearly. Ask the Iraqi people where are the oil refineries? ... How many hours of electricity are available for the Iraqi citizen in the center and south? And Iraq lives on a sea of oil," he said.
"If it is not a failed policy, then what is the reason?" he asked.
Barzani repeated a long-held KRG position that the oil and gas contracts signed by the Kurdish government are constitutional and the region will not give away such rights in order to solve its disputes with Baghdad.
He also said under a 2007 deal both the regional and central governments agreed to continue signing contracts with oil companies until the long-awaited hydrocarbons law was approved.
Maliki and Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Salih agreed in a meeting in October to present an oil law to parliament by year-end and said it would be the draft law approved by the political blocs in 2007, or a version of it with agreed amendments.
"We are exercising the right that was given to us by the constitution and no official in Baghdad has the right to take this away from us," Barzani said.