Iraq wants Russians to replace Exxon at West Qurna - report
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Iraq is considering replacing ExxonMobil with Russian companies at the supergiant West Qurna-1 oilfield, after the U.S. major angered Baghdad by venturing into Kurdistan, according to a media report citing industry sources.
The northern Kurdish region has riled Baghdad by signing deals with foreign oil majors, such as Exxon, Total and Chevron, contracts the central government rejects as illegal.
Nefte Compass, a weekly energy newsletter about the FSU and Eastern Europe, said on Thursday that Iraq is weighing whether to replace Exxon with Russia's LUKOIL and Gazprom Neft - both already involved in the country.
It said that the proposal was due to be raised at a meeting this week between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting took place on Wednesday, but no such offers - if they were made - have been made public.
A spokesman for Russia's second-largest crude producer LUKOIL, which operates West Qurna-2, said the company is not planning to increase its exposure in Iraq by acquiring a stake in West Qurna-1, reiterating the company's official line that it is satisfied with its portfolio in Iraq.
Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of the world's top natural gas producer Gazprom, declined to comment.
Sources have told Reuters that Russia's top oil company Rosneft, may team up with Exxon in Iraq after the two have struck a landmark agreement to jointly tap Arctic hydrocarbon riches and oil and gas in North America.
Rosneft also declined to comment on the possibility of entering Iraq.
On Wednesday, Putin, a vocal opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, called for Russia to strengthen its presence in the OPEC oil producer state at the meeting with al-Maliki.
Sources also said Gazprom Neft has no plans to freeze its projects in Kurdistan, it pledged to develop in August, refuting media reports. The company already has a project in Iraq, near the Iranian border, where it expects to produce about 15,000 barrels per day from 2013.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; additional reporting by Olesya Astakhova, editing by William Hardy)
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