November 17, 2009 / 3:32 PM / 10 years ago

Iraq puts off decision on oilfield again

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s cabinet canceled a Tuesday meeting at which it had been expected to approve deals with Western oil majors for the West Qurna and Zubair oilfields, because too many ministers were out of town, officials said.

It was not immediately clear when the decisions would now be taken but cabinet would likely try to hold a session before its next scheduled meeting on November 24, said Ali al-Moussawi, manager of the government’s National Media Center.

A decision had been expected at last Tuesday’s cabinet meeting but Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said at the time it had been delayed until November 17.

He had expected cabinet to approve an initial deal with a group led by Italian oil major Eni (ENI.MI) for the Zubair field after addressing some issues raised by its legal panel.

Approval of an initial deal for the West Qurna oilfield, inked with an Exxon Mobil-led (XOM.N) group that includes Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), had also been delayed to November 17.

But a total of 11 ministers were traveling outside the country this week, including those with President Jalal Talabani in France, Moussawi said.

The Zubair and West Qurna deals are two of several major contracts that Iraq is signing with global oil companies in an effort to almost triple current oil production of around 2.5 million barrels per day in six or seven years.

If the deals work out, Iraq could become the world’s third largest oil producer. Decades of war, sanctions and underinvestment in its oil infrastructure have left it lagging in 11th place now.

Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Keiron Henderson

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