November 19, 2011 / 9:03 PM / 9 years ago

Iraq sees Exxon's interest in south larger than Kurd deal

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq believes Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) has less interest in pursuing a disputed oil deal in the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region because it has much larger contract in southern Iraq, its oil minister said on Saturday.

Exxon has signed six exploration oil and gas deals with the northern Kurdish region, which is at loggerheads with the central government in Baghdad over oil and land rights.

Baghdad has said any oil deals signed with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) are illegal, and has suggested the Exxon accord in the north could jeopardize its contract to develop West Qurna oilfield in south Iraq.

“Exxon’s interests in Iraq are large and not to be compared with what was announced from small blocks in the region,” Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul-Kareem Luaibi told Reuters in Baghdad before leaving for Japan.

“Talks about this issue will be at a later stage, after we receive a response from Exxon,” he said when asked whether the Exxon contract would be canceled.

He said he expected a response from the U.S. oil major in the next few days. Exxon has not commented since the deal was announced by Kurdish officials last week.

Exxon, with Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), has a multi-billion dollar contract with Iraq’s oil ministry to develop the 8.7 billion barrel West Qurna Phase One oilfield in the south - one of many large contracts Iraq hopes will help rebuild its crude industry.

OPEC member Iraq has signed scores of deals with foreign oil explorers to develop its oilfields as it recovers from years of war and sanctions more than eight years after the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

But oil majors have until now stayed away from the northern Kurdish region because of the ongoing dispute with Baghdad over who controls disputed territories and the region’s oil resources.

Reporting by Aseel Kami: writing by Patrick Markey

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