Iraqi Kurdistan to publish oil contracts-minister.
Iraqi Kurdistan said that the semi-autonomous region planned to publish disputed oil deals it had made with foreign firms, a move that may help end an impasse with Baghdad over who will pay them. Kurdistan and Baghdad have been at loggerheads for months over oil deals Kurdistan signed independently with foreign firms. The Arab-led government in Baghdad refuses to pay the firms, and oil exports from Kurdistan stopped last year.
One problem is a lack of transparency in the deals, Baghdad lawmakers say, and the contracts' publication on the internet may help defuse the row. The Kurdish authorities have already sent copies of at least two contracts to Baghdad as both sides talk increasingly, ahead of a March 7 election, of an accord.
"The sooner we compile and scan them, they will be out," Kurdish natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami told Reuters in an interview on Sunday, referring to deals with some 38 firms currently working in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Small firms including Norway's DNO, Genel Enerji of Turkey and London-listed Heritage Oil have struck production sharing agreements in the largely autonomous northern Kurdish region. The central government in Baghdad prefers service contracts, for which developers receive a set fee for each barrel of oil produced.
Questions were raised about Kurdistan's agreements with foreign firms last year, when the Oslo bourse revealed details of a murky share deal between DNO and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KRG denied any wrongdoing.
Kurds want the central government to pay the oil companies working in Kurdistan, but Baghdad insists the KRG pay from its annual cut of the national budget.
Tensions between Kurds and the Arab-led government in Baghdad over contracts and larger issues about resources and land are seen as a major threat as Iraq emerges from years of sectarian war since the 2003 U.S. invasion.
Hawrami has in the past used interviews to rail against the Baghdad government, but his latest comments were more diplomatic, perhaps a sign of sensitivity ahead of the March 7 parliamentary vote, after which the Kurds will seek allies.
Baghdad's hand in the dispute has also strengthened, after the Oil Ministry signed a raft of deals last month for oilfields outside Iraqi Kurdistan that may turn Iraq into one of the three top global oil producers.
Kurd-Arab ties seemed to thaw recently, and Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said last week that he expected oil exports from Kurdistan to resume within days.
Hawrami, however, said the Kurdish regional government had still not received a message from Baghdad about exports, which Kurdish leaders had targeted at 100,000 barrels per day.
"We have not formally, as far as I'm aware, received any written response from the office of the prime minister in Baghdad, but we're expecting that," he said.
When asked whether Kurdish authorities would use their 17 percent share of the budget to pay companies, Hawrami said: "No, absolutely not."
Hawrami estimates there are 45 billion barrels of recoverable reserves in Kurdistan, adding that he expected 11-12 new wells to be dug this year. Iraq's total reserves are estimated at 115 billion barrels -- the world's third largest.