Total signs oil deal in Kurdistan region of Iraq

PARIS, July 31 (Reuters) - France’s Total said it bought a 35 percent interest in two oil exploration blocks in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, despite potential anger from the Iraqi government which has attempted to bar oil companies from dealing directly with the semi-autonomous northern region.

Total, which is following U.S. rivals into the area, said it bought stakes in the Harir and Safen blocks from Marathon Oil of the United States.

Exxon Mobil became the first oil major to move into the northern region of Iraq in mid-October when it signed a deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

In addition to Total, Norway’s Statoil is also looking closely at KRG exploration deals, industry sources have said.

The Iraqi central government in Baghdad considers that any oil contracts signed with Kurdistan are illegal and it blacklisted Chevron Corp, which followed Exxon into Kurdistan this month, over such a deal. (Reporting by Caroline Jacobs)