BAGHDAD (THE WALL STREET JOURNAL via Dow Jones Newswires), May 21, 2009
Iraqi lawmakers called on Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani to resign, saying he failed to boost production at a time when lower crude prices have forced painful budget cuts.
Members of parliament's oil and gas committee say production has been hamstrung by mismanagement at Mr. Shahristani's agency. In a rare public dressing-down over the weekend, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, speaking at an economic conference in Jordan, said the oil ministry wasn't doing enough to boost production.
The parliamentary committee has collected enough lawmakers' signatures to summon Mr. Shahristani before parliament for questioning. A date hasn't been scheduled yet for his appearance.
Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said Mr. Shahristani looks forward to responding to parliament. Mr. Jihad said some allegations are politically motivated, aimed at helping lawmakers in an election year in Iraq.
"It is time for him to step aside since his oil policies have failed," said Jabber Khalifa al-Jabber, an engineer who worked in the oil industry and is now a senior oil and gas committee member. Mr. Jabber said lawmakers could decide to hold a no-confidence vote about Mr. Shahristani.
Oil production is around 2.4 million barrels a day; pre-war production ran between 2.5 million and 3 million. Production fell to 2.1 million barrels a day in January. Iraq relies on oil proceeds for 90% of its revenue. The fall in oil prices has forced budget cuts and a government hiring freeze that includes security forces.
Mr. Shahristani blames a number of factors for the oil industry's slow development, including neglect during Saddam Hussein's regime and the insurgency and violence after the 2003 invasion. Mr. Shahristani says he also has been hindered by parliament's failure so far to pass a comprehensive petroleum law, which would set the legal groundwork for international investment in the sector.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has grown disenchanted with Mr. Shahristani, an adviser to the prime minister said. It's unclear whether Mr. Maliki would dismiss the minister, partly because of worries over finding a successor acceptable to Iraq's many political factions.
A change in leadership could affect plans to award a handful of technical-service contracts. Several international oil companies are bidding for the contracts, which are to be awarded next month and are seen as crucial to slowing the decline in production at some oil fields. Mr. Shahristani has been heavily involved in the bidding process.
Separately, Iraq and Egypt announced plans Wednesday to cooperate on energy development. Mr. Shahristani announced that Egyptian oil companies will take part in exploration in Iraq, drilling wells, developing fields and building refineries and pipelines.
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