* Exxon Mobil, Baghdad at odds over Kurdish deals
* U.S. major seeking to sell stake in West Qurna oilfield
By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD, Jan 21 Exxon Mobil has asked
Iraq's prime minister if it can keep running a huge southern
oilfield despite disagreements over rival contracts signed with
the country's autonomous Kurdistan region, the government said
The face-to-face talks between Shi'ite premier Nuri
al-Maliki and Exxon's top executive in Baghdad come as the U.S.
major offers to sell its stake in the West Qurna-1 oilfield in
the south after clashing with Baghdad over its deals with the
self-ruled Kurdish enclave in the north.
Iraq has been clear it considers deals oil companies like
Exxon sign with the Kurdish enclave illegal. But the meeting may
suggest Exxon is testing its room to balance investments with
OPEC-member's central government and those with the
self-governed Kurdistan region.
"Exxon Mobil asked to meet with the prime minister to know
his opinion on the company's contracts in the south and in the
northern region and if there was a possibility to keep working
on both contracts," Maliki's media adviser Ali al-Moussawi said
after the meeting.
"The prime minister's answer was clear to the head of Exxon
that they can't keep operating on both deals at the same time
and they should observe Iraq's laws."
A statement from the government said only that Exxon Chief
Executive Rex Tillerson had "expressed his company's keenness to
continue and expand its work in Iraq."
Iraqi officials had said late last year that China National
Petroleum Corp, or CNPC, had emerged as the favourite in
negotiations to take over Exxon's 60 percent stake in the $50
billion the West Qurna-1 project.
Iraq's Arab-led central government and Kurdistan Regional
Government run by ethnic Kurds are caught in a dispute over
control of oil revenues, oilfields and territory that is testing
Iraq's federal union.
Iraq's government says it alone has the constitutional
authority to export crude oil and sign deals, but Kurdistan says
the constitution allows it to agree to contracts and ship oil
independently of Baghdad.
Attempts to resolve the dispute have failed in part because
of disagreements over a long-delayed oil and gas law meant to
set a clearer framework for managing the country's vast oil
reserves, the world's fourth largest.