Kurdish Officials Arrive for Iraq Govt Talks on Oil Contracts

BAGHDAD Dec 11, 2007 (AP via Dow Jones Newswires)

A high-level Kurdish delegation arrived in Baghdad Monday to discuss a dispute over several oil contracts the regional government has signed with foreign companies and other controversial issues.

With national legislation stalled, Kurdish authorities have signed more than a dozen contracts with foreign companies over the objections by Oil Ministry officials in Baghdad, who consider the deals illegal.

The Iraqi Cabinet approved a U.S.-backed draft bill last February to regulate the country's oil industry and forwarded it to parliament. But parliament, citing legal technicalities, sent it back to the Cabinet. The measure has been bogged down in negotiations ever since.

Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish government approved a regional oil law in August, paving the way for foreign investment in their northern oil and gas fields. But the national Oil Ministry has declared deals signed under the agreement illegal and threatened to blacklist companies that sign them.

The Kurdish delegation, led by regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, also planned to address the pending 2008 budget and plans to hold a referendum on the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

"The agenda includes such vital issues as oil drilling, (oil) contracts already concluded by the regional government of Kurdistan, the region's share of the budget and Article 140 of the constitution and the means of implementing it," said Jabar Yawar, a spokesman for Kurdistan's Peshmerga security forces.

Article 140 refers to the constitutional section that calls for a referendum on Kirkuk by the end of this year. Iraqi and Kurdish officials have acknowledged they won't meet the deadline.

The Kurds want to incorporate Kirkuk, 290 kilometers north of Baghdad, into their self-rule region, but they have met stiff resistance to the idea from Arabs and the national government.

Yawar said the Kurds also would discuss the central government's budget allocation for the Peshmergas and the merger of the former guerrilla force into the regional border command.

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