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Russia eyes deals in oil-rich northern Iraq

Baghdad, October 13, 2010

Russia is talking directly with Iraq's oil-rich Kurdistan region about investment opportunities there, Russia's ambassador to Iraq said on Tuesday, a strategy that could irritate Iraq's central government.

Baghdad is at odds with the semi-autonomous northern region and has strongly opposed oil deals the Kurds have signed independently with foreign companies. The row has halted exports from Kurdish oilfields.

Speaking inside the heavily fortified Russian embassy compound in Baghdad, ambassador Valerian Shuvayev said Russian delegates often visited Kurdistan to explore opportunities.

"They go to Kurdistan quite a lot. There is nothing concrete but both sides are thinking about how to take this further," he said in an interview.

Asked if Russian companies considered signing contracts with Kurdistan directly, Shuvayev said: "Why not? If (a project) is feasible, then why not. And there have been talks." He was tight-lipped on the details and declined to name the companies.

Shuvayev said the Russian firms looked mainly at non-oil projects to avoid friction with the federal government but some talks had also taken place in the energy sector.

"Some affiliated companies have tried to do something there but I have not heard of any great success," he said.

Russia had a cosy relationship with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, supplying him with weapons and winning the right to develop West Qurna -- one of the world's biggest oilfields.

Saddam tore up that deal in 2002, months before the U.S. invasion that ousted him, saying the Russians had failed to live up to their side of the contract.

Sitting on some of the world's biggest oil reserves, Iraq has opened its energy sector to foreign investment, triggering fierce competition among international oil companies.

Moscow is now looking for ways back into Iraq's war-battered economy, which needs investment in practically every sector.

While most Iraqis are struggling to overcome the effects of a seven-year war, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region remains stable and many investors are keen to tap its vast oilfields. Some also see it as an entry point for the rest of Iraq.

Shuvayev said Russian firms were in talks on participation in several sectors of Iraq's economy.

"Yes, it's all happening rather spontaneously. It's not like it's a planned offensive," he said. "Talks are under way. ... There is readiness from both sides (to develop relations).” – Reuters




Tags: Russia | Baghdad | Kurdistan | oilfield | kurds | North Iraq |

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