Top Iraqi Officials Arrive in Dubai to Discuss Draft Oil Law

DUBAI, Apr 17, 2007 (Dow Jones News)

Iraqi officials and businessmen arrived in the United Arab Emirates Tuesday ahead of a meeting in Dubai on April 18 to discuss their country's controversial but crucial draft hydrocarbon law, intended to attract investments into the country's ailing energy sector.

The 85-strong Iraqi delegation is led by Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and also comprises Planning Minister Ali Baban, Oil Minister Hussein Al Sharistani, former oil minister Thamir Ghadban and several other parliamentarians as well as Iraqi oil specialists and businessmen.

In Baghdad, Iraq's Oil Ministry spokesman, Assem Jihad, said the two-day meeting would be headed by Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi parliament Khaled al-Atayah, who stands for the parliament-majority Shiite Alliance.

The delegation will debate ways of moving forward the country's proposed hydrocarbons law, which has been bogged down by disagreement over whether Iraq, holder of the world's third largest oil reserves, should open up the oil and gas sectors to foreign investors.

Jihad said the seminar aims to note any comments raised by Iraqi oil experts prior to debating the law in parliament.

Several former Iraqi oil ministers and officials and veteran Iraqi oil experts, who have already fled the country's chaos but continue to hold some influence in Baghdad's politics and industry, urged the parliament to reject the draft law during a seminar they held in Amman last month. They feared that the new legislation would further divide the country already witnessing civil strife.

Among the attendants of Wednesday's seminar would be veteran and independent Iraqi oil experts Tariq Shafiq and Faruq al-Qasim. Both took part in drafting the law at its earlier stages but they later voiced their reservation on its final shape. They would present papers to the meeting.

The Iraqi cabinet endorsed the law Feb. 27 but it still requires parliamentary approval for it to come into force.

The legislation in its current form fails to clarify issues critical for investment in the country, namely the terms for foreign oil companies' participation, and whether they would be allowed to take majority stakes in some Iraqi oil fields.

The Dubai meeting comes a month after Iraqi top officials met with managers of Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB) in Oman to discuss prospective oil and gas joint-venture contracts and investments to upgrade Iraq's dilapidated oil and gas industries.

The oil law, if passed in its actual form, is expected to open the country's billions of barrels of proven oil reserves to foreign investors. Iraq's daily oil exports of about 1.9 million barrels remain crucial to meeting global demand of about 85 million barrels.

The country has proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels and, according to Iraqi oil ministry's figures, another 214 billion to 240 billion barrels not yet proven.

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