Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kurdish Ministers Woo U.S Oil Firms Regional Bid Angers Iraqi Government

Image Preview

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 28, 2007

Two top Kurdish leaders are a long way from the mountains of northern Iraq this week.

On Monday night, Omer Fattah Hussain was the toast of a dinner held at the 10,000-square-foot McLean mansion of Ed Rogers, a Reagan White House political director and current chairman of the lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers. In an opulent living room just off an art-filled entryway with a curved double stairway, the deputy prime minister of the Iraqi Kurds' autonomous region mingled with such luminaries as former assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle, former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and former White House press secretary Tony Snow.

Today, Hussain travels to Houston with Ashti Abdullah Hawrami, the Kurdish regional oil minister, to woo an even more important audience: U.S. oil companies.

After more than a year of political deadlock in Iraq over a national petroleum law, the Kurdistan Regional Government unanimously adopted its own petroleum legislation in August. In the past month, it has signed a dozen oil exploration contracts and hopes that foreign firms will ultimately invest $10 billion in the oil sector and bring 1 million barrels a day of new oil production from the Kurdish region over the next five years.

"Everyone is lining up . . . saying 'I want a piece of this action,' " said Hawrami, who hopes to complete negotiations on two more deals in Houston.

Hawrami said the contracts posed no conflict with Iraq's federal constitution. The Iraqi central government, however, is irate over the Kurdish contracts -- and the State Department isn't happy either. The Bush administration has been striving mightily over the past year to get a national petroleum law approved before international firms jump in.

In addition, a group of 60 Iraqi oil professionals signed a letter saying that the recent Kurdish contracts were a "dangerous step that has no legal or political standing whatsoever." Iraqi oil union leaders have also opposed the contracts.

Earlier this month, Iraqi oil minister Hussein Shahristani called the deals illegal. He warned that foreign oil companies that sign contracts with the Kurdish authorities without central government approval risk retaliation when seeking stakes in the bigger oil prospects in the southern part of the country. There are 51 known but undeveloped fields in Iraq.

Several major international oil companies have been talking to Baghdad about resuming work in the same giant southern fields where they had worked when Saddam Hussein was in power. And the central government indicated to them that it might rely on Hussein-era oil laws or offer service contracts if the new petroleum legislation is delayed, according to Kamal Field Aldasri, an economic adviser to the Iraqi government.

Aldasri said recently that the central government wants help in finding ways to boost output at the 27 operating oil fields throughout Iraq, which are producing well below their potential. The Kirkuk field, for example, used to produce almost 1 million barrels a day and now produces less than 200,000. The government's aims to boost production from the current 2.2 million barrels a day to 3 million, though it is running far behind schedule.

The major oil companies have been giving advice, reviewing data and training Iraqi oil workers -- without compensation. Royal Dutch Shell Group, for example, is drawing up a master plan for tapping for domestic consumption the more than 600 million cubic feet a day of natural gas now being burned off. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Total are also doing technical studies, industry sources say.

But given political uncertainty, legal disputes and security risks, the big international firms are not prepared to reenter the country with their own personnel.

An official of one major oil company, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid compromising talks with central or regional Iraqi officials, said: "Frankly, I don't think there are any opportunities at the moment in northern Iraq that are appropriate for a company [of our] size. . . . They're too small."

Smaller firms, however, have rushed to sign exploration and production contracts there. They include affiliates of Russia's Alfa-Access-Renovo group, India's Reliance Industries, the Korea National Oil Corp. and Austria's major oil firm, OMV.

Asked about the absence of major oil companies, Hawrami said TNK-BP had signed a contract. BP said that it was not involved but that its Russian partner had entered the agreement on its own.

Some of the recent signing activity may have begun when Dallas-based Hunt Oil, whose chief executive Ray L. Hunt is a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a major contributor to Bush's campaigns, signed a contract in September. Smaller U.S. companies have followed suit.

The Hunt contract upset the State Department, which has been pressing Iraq to adopt a petroleum law that would delineate the division of authority between the central and regional governments.

In a Sept. 28 meeting with the Washington representatives of major oil companies, two State Department officials insisted that the Bush administration's policy was that U.S. companies should not sign separate deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government without approval from the central government in Baghdad.

According to one person at the meeting, the officials warned that some of the blocs being offered by the Kurdish government lay outside its territory and might extend into Turkey or Iran. While conceding that the Hunt deal did not violate any U.S. law, they said it created an "unfortunate and untimely" impression that the U.S. government was changing its position on the need for a national petroleum law.

Reports surfaced nearly a year ago that central and regional authorities were close to a deal on the law, but no agreement has been reached. The key issues in dispute are the types and terms of contracts offered to foreign companies, whether the central or regional governments have the power to sign contracts, what portion of revenue flows to the central government, the composition of a federal commission empowered to review contracts, and whether the committee that distributes oil receipts is part of the central finance ministry or an independent group.

Some Iraqis accuse the Kurdish regional authorities of giving overly generous terms to foreign oil companies in production-sharing agreements. In those agreements, a foreign firm takes on all the risk of exploration but gets a share of production if it finds oil.

Hawrami said the foreign firms would get no more than 15 percent of production under recent contracts and less if the regional government chooses to take a one-quarter stake in the venture after oil is found. He said contracts in relatively peaceful areas would offer smaller percentages to foreign companies.

Production from fields in the Kurdish area would be exported through a pipeline that goes through Turkey, Hawrami said. The pipeline, which has been damaged by frequent explosions, carried 300,000 barrels a day in October, an improvement some industry experts attribute to increased patrols by Kurdish militia and Iraqi helicopter monitoring.

Hawrami said that Shahristani's threats against firms that sign contracts in the Kurdish region were counterproductive and that delays were costing Iraq money. "We don't need his approval," Hawrami said. "Every time we hear the word 'illegal,' we sign two more contracts."

Sweden to resume flights to Kurdistan

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Swedish Airways

Sr se
Sweden to resume flights to Kurdistan after a three month break.
Swedish Radio News reports that direct air flights from Sweden to Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous region are about to resume following a three month break.

Traffic was suspended in August, after the pilots on a Swedish airliner reported being shot at with a rocket over Kurdistan 'northwestern Iraq'.

The attack has never been confirmed, and now the civilian aviation authorities say they believe if there was a rocket fired it was an isolated incident.

Two airlines have applied for permission to resume flights to Iraqi Kurdistan. Some 70,000 Swedes have their roots in the area.

In August, the chairman of the Sulaimaniyah International Airport Authority, Kamaran Ahmed, said a local investigation found no evidence that a missile was fired and blamed the scare on bright lights being used on the ground.

"No plane at the Sulaimaniyah International Airport has come under attack. This is untrue and baseless news," its spokesman Khalid Saleh said.

Russian consulate opened in Kurdistan's capital

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Russia consulate was inaugurated in Kurdistan region

VOI | Agencies
The Russian consulate was inaugurated in the Kurdistan's capital Erbil.
The Russian consulate was inaugurated in the Kurdistan's capital Erbil on Wednesday to provide Kurdish citizens who wish to enter Russia with the necessary visas.

In his word, Russian ambassador to Iraq at the inauguration ceremony said "We are in Erbil today to witness a historic step by inaugurating the Russian consulate."

"This step came after long negotiations between the Russian government from one side and the Iraqi and Kurdish governments from the other," he noted.

"Kurdish citizens can now get Russia's entry visa from the consulate in Erbil instead of going to Baghdad," the ambassador highlighted.

He unveiled his country's plan to open a consulate in the southern city of Basra in Iraq, without providing further details.

For his part, Iraq's Kurdistan region's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani expressed joy over the opening of the Russian consulate.

"The inauguration of the Russian consulate is due to the deep-rooted relations between the two countries," the premier noted.

Erbil witnessed also today the inauguration of the U.N. regional office; the first among the three offices announced by the U.N. two months ago within its plan to expand its role in Iraq.

Earlier, Iraqi Kurdistan government announced that it will open 15 representations abroad, the offices will be opened in Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and other countries, also announced that Greece had decided to open a consulate in Kurdistan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kurdistan to become new buffer between West and East

This is an image

PanARMENIAN.Net - Formation of independent Kurdistan is nearly finished, senior expert of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian academy of Sciences Kirill Vertyayev said during Yerevan-Moscow space bridge. A Kurdish autonomy can be maintained in Iraq but the proclamation of independence has become an inevitable process, according to him.

“Kurdistan will become a new buffer between West and East. Along with Israel it will become a political unit opposing the Islamic world. Given its strategic consideration, Armenia is also close to Kurdistan,” Vertyayev said. “Turkey was debarred from settling the Iraqi conflict. That is why the Turkish government seeks to convince the population in Turkey’s regional importance.”

For his part, Director of Museum-Institute of Armenian Genocide Hayk Demoyan reminded that formation of independent Kurdistan was stipulated by the Treaty of Sevres. “There is official data that correlation of Turks and Kurds in Turkey will be equal by 2010. This means that Turkey won’t benefit from operations in northern Iraq,” he said.

Massoud Barzani’s whereabouts remain in the dark

This is an image

London ( 27 November 2007: The whereabouts of the President of Kurdistan region remain in the dark after reports of an alleged assassination attempt by one of his aide. Many reports of attempt on Barzai’s life appeared mainly in Arabic and Turkish media which all been denied by Kurdistan Regional government’s official spokesperson.

Latest public appearance by Massoud Barzani was on 8th of November when he met Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani in Erbil.

Kurdish Regional Government sources say Barzani is out of Kurdistan on holiday in Europe without naming the country. Last week, there were unconfirmed reports that Barzani and his family arrived in Vienna for holiday. Also last week a Turkish newspaper reported that Barzani have been seen shopping in a famous street of Milano, Italy with some of his bodyguards. a Kurdish website run by Patriotic union of Kurdistan (PUK) reported on Sunday that Barzani in Vienna for routine health check.

An Israeli newspaper with links to Israeli Intelligent services published report that Barzani was admitted to an Israeli Hospital in Til Aviv for treatment after an alleged assassination attempt by one of his aide. These claims where denied by Fuad Hussein, spokesperson for Barzani.

KRG Expel Turkish Journalist From Southern Kurdistan

AP Associated Press
November 26, 2007

BAGHDAD: A Turkish journalist who reported that Iraq's Kurdish president personally escorted two guerrilla commanders to Europe for eventual extradition to Turkey was expelled from Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday for publishing "false news," the semiautonomous government said.

The journalist for Ihlas news agency, Sadiq Kahraman, cited anonymous sources in his Nov. 24 report saying Massoud Barzani had accompanied two senior Kurdish guerrilla commanders on a military plane to a European country. The report said U.S. or Iraqi Kurdish authorities preferred the two be extradited through a third country.

Saveen Dazi'e, head of foreign relations for Kurdistan Democratic Party, denied the report and said Kahraman was being deported for his role in publishing "false news that escalates the situation with Turkey," which has long been angered that Kurdish rebels seek haven in northern Iraq while launching attacks on Turkish soldiers.

Ihlas said Iraqi Kurdish officials came to the news agency's office on Sunday and demanded he name his sources.

"We can't name our sources, and we believe our sources. I have been working in Iraq for a long time and we are under pressure," Kahraman said Monday, according to Ihlas. He said the rebels, known by their Kurdish acronym PKK, have also threatened the news agency.

Kurdistan plans a $400 million Media City

Tuesday, 27 November 2007,


Rome (AKI)
The KRG is planning to set up a Kurdish media city.
The Kurdistan regional government in Iraq is planning to set up a Kurdish media city which will act as a hub for media and communications in the region and also attract investment to northern Iraq.

This is according to the Kurdistan regional government's civil society minister, George Yousif Mansour.

On Monday, Mansour paid a visit to the Rome headquarters of Adnkronos, a leading Italian news agency. The minister asked Adnkronos International (AKI) to help turn such a project into reality.

Mansour held a meeting with the director of Adnkronos and president of the GMC-Adnkronos media group, Giuseppe Marra. He said that the media city would be based in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, and would cost 400 million dollars.

The project will have an initial capital of 40 million dollars, with 60 percent of the project covered by the Kurdish government and the remaining 40 percent to be covered by a Dubai-based film and television company.

The aim of the project is to attract the international media to the northern regions of Iraq. The Media City will include television studios, a hotel, shops and places to live for those involved in media production.

Mansour said that in this way they hope to create professional opportunities as they develop the media and tourism industries in the region.

Initially the hub will be able to transmit to 60 television stations and will eventually increase this number to 120.

The political advisor to Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, Gorgs Y. Bakoos, and Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, Albert Yelda, were also present at the meeting in Rome on Monday.

Mansour thanked AKI for its "impartiality in its reporting on Iraq" and praised the news agency for the training programme in place for four Iraqi journalists at AKI's Arabic news service. The project is sponsored by the Italian foreign ministry's Task Force Iraq programme.

Mansour said that while "information represents the so-called 'fourth estate'" it was important to remember that the news has both "destructive and useful aspects".

The Iraqi minister stressed the need for "neutral, credible and objective" information and that the media "needs to build bridges between communities, populations and societies".

"The media professional does not have to be a social reformer, but has the duty to transmit the news in as objective a way as possible," he said.

Mansour said that "the media tends to concentrate on security issues when discussing Iraq, while Iraq actually represents so much more, having been the cradle of civilisation and a country with history and culture."

Bakoos, also said that the Western and Arabic media tended to concentrate too much on security issues in Iraq "without giving sufficient attention to the efforts at political, social and economic reconstruction" and said that AKI played a role in "giving a more balanced view of Iraq."