Representatives of the US energy giant Exxon Mobil and Kurdish officials have reportedly visited an oilfield in a disputed area in northern Iraq despite opposition by the Iraqi government.
An Iraqi local said on Friday that the delegates toured the Qara Hanjir oil exploration block, about 35 kilometers southeast of the city of Kirkuk, which lies in a territory disputed by the central government and the autonomous Kurdistan region.
“In the meeting we discussed the work of Exxon Mobil in Qara Hanjir block and we discussed how to facilitate the company’s work," said Avesta Sheikh Mohammed, the local Kurdish major of the area. “The Kurdistan regional government has all the right to sign oil deals to develop energy resources.”
An Iraqi oil official and a Kurdistan oil official confirmed the meeting had taken place to discuss building a camp at the block in the low hills.
According to Iraq’s constitution, all oil contracts in the Kurdistan region should be ratified by the Iraqi government.
Baghdad urges Exxon Mobil to abide by the country’s constitution amid a dispute between the Iraqi government and the autonomous Kurdistan region over oil operations.
Exxon has been at the center of the growing disagreement between Baghdad and Kurdistan since it signed six oil agreements with the autonomous region last year.
However, Exxon weighs whether to stay or pull out of its huge West Qurna oilfield in southern Iraq, or keep its Kurdistan fields. Iraqi and Kurdish officials have both suggested Exxon would side with them.
Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said on Sunday that the US firm must decide between the two regions. “Exxon Mobil cannot work in the two fields at the same time.”
On January 28, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Exxon Mobil’s chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, that Iraqis are “partners in the oil that is discovered in any part of Iraq, they cannot be partners in Basra and not partners in other areas.”
Tillerson said Exxon Mobil was eager to continue and expand its work in Iraq and would “take important decisions in this regard.”
Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell completed a deal in January 2010 to develop production at 8.6-billion-barrel West Qurna-1 oilfield in Basra.
Late last year, the American company informed Baghdad that it wanted to sell its stake in the project so it could focus on the Kurdish deal instead.
Iraq largely depends on oil revenues to support most state expenditures.