Iraq's northern Kurdish region signed a deal with US oil major ExxonMobil in mid-October for six exploration blocks in the semi-autonomous area, Kurdish energy minister Ashti Hawrami said yesterday.
The first confirmation from the Kurdistan Regional Government of the pact, which could jeopardise ExxonMobil investments in Iraq, came two days after a KRG adviser said the deal had been completed. Exxon has yet to comment.
Iraq's central government, which has long-running disputes with the Kurdish region over oil and land, has said Baghdad would consider a deal between Exxon and the KRG illegal and a violation of the company's contract to develop Iraq's 8.7-billion-barrel West Qurna Phase One oilfield.
"It is a binding contract," Hawrami said at an oil and gas conference in the Kurdish capital Arbil. "It was signed completely on the 18th of October 2011."
Article continues below
Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed more stability and security in recent years than the rest of Iraq, which is still struggling with stubborn violence from insurgents and militias more than eight years after the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussain.
The KRG has signed contracts with a number of smaller foreign firms to develop oilfields in the region, but the contract with Exxon would be its first with a global oil major.
Baghdad disputes the validity of the contracts, saying it has the right to control development of the world's fourth largest oil reserves. ExxonMobil has yet to confirm the deal with the KRG.
Abdul Mahdy Al Ameedi, the director of the Iraqi oil ministry's contracts and licensing directorate, said on Friday the government had sent three letters to Exxon Mobil warning that any deal with the KRG would be considered illegal. Al Ameedi said such a deal could result in the termination of Exxon's contract to develop Iraq's 8.7 billion barrel West Qurna Phase One field.