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Iraq will iron out oil industry troubles: Maliki

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 28, 2010
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged his government would address logistical and other woes plaguing international oil firms in his country, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

In his first interview since his cabinet was confirmed this month, Maliki acknowledged oil companies were facing delays to get needed equipment into Iraq due to airport backlogs and troubles at the main border entry points in the southern oil hub of Basra, the report said.

But it added the prime minister indicated he was getting personally involved to resolve the longstanding complaints, including with meetings planned for this week with senior security officials to address logistical hangups and to identify alternatives to get equipment into the country.

The premier said Baghdad would welcome not just foreign oil field development work but also international petroleum companies.

"We have no restrictions on their entry. We want them," Maliki told the Journal, referring to foreign oil companies and oil-services firms. "We need speed. We need money."

Iraq's oil output has risen to more than 2.6 million barrels a day, its highest level for two decades, according to Oil Minister Abdulkarim al-Luaybi. But while the country has some of the world's biggest oil deposits, it has struggled to fully exploit its riches due to prolonged periods of war, sanctions and crippled investment.

"We know that developing Iraq's economy and providing funds for finishing projects and providing jobs for people all depend on revenue from oil," Luaybi said in his speech at a ceremony to mark his official takeover of the ministry.

He vowed to meet the challenge.

Luaybi said the ministry would "reactivate the role of the exploration teams and geological surveys in order to strengthen national production," and also emphasized previously-announced plans to expand oil sector infrastructure.

These plans include "projects to expand oil and gas pipelines, and make good use of the gas that comes out with the extraction of oil," along with establishing new large refineries, he said.

Maliki told the Journal he expected Iraq's cash-flow problems to improve by September when one of four new floating oil-export terminals -- due to collectively more than double Iraq's export capacity -- becomes operational in Basra.

Work was also due to get underway soon on an agreement to build an oil pipeline from northern Iraq to the Syrian port city of Baniyas that is expected to be able to pump 2.6 million barrels a day when finished.

And Maliki, vowing to protect the country's oil sector and foreign investors from political interference, said a new raft of proposed amendments to Iraq's investment law would provide better protection for foreign investors and encourage interest in housing and other sectors.

He also dismissed as "mere opinion" a fatwa by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr prohibiting his followers from working for foreign oil firms.

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