Britain seeks role in protecting Iraqi oil supplies

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain wants to get involved in protecting oil supplies from Iraq after its combat role there comes to an end, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Thursday.

Brown was speaking after talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in London coinciding with the formal end of combat operations for British troops in southern Iraq.

“We hope to sign an agreement with the Iraqi government about the future role that we can play in training and in protecting the oil supplies of Iraq and that will be an agreement between our two governments rather than any new United Nations resolution,” Brown told a news conference.

He said he believed the proposed agreement would go to the Iraqi parliament in the next few weeks.

Iraq currently produces nearly 2 million barrels of oil a day and sits on the world’s third-largest proven reserves.

Maliki planned to join senior Iraqi officials and international business leaders at a conference in London on Thursday to explore possible investment deals as the country slowly emerges from six years of conflict.

Representatives from around 250 companies, from Shell to Rolls Royce and Barclays Capital, will meet leaders including Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani for a day of talks.

A series of deadly attacks in Iraq in the past two weeks has stirred fears of a return to broader sectarian bloodshed.

“There are people in Iraq who want to fail the government but our army and armed forces are ready to face these challenges,” Maliki told the news conference, saying Iraq needed investment.

Brown said Iraq was open for business and urged British companies to look for opportunities there.

British troops are withdrawing from Iraq six years after joining the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. By the end of July there will be only around 400 troops left and they will help to train Iraqis.

Reporting by Luke Baker; Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Angus MacSwan