* Barham Salih says Iraq oil minister's stance may delay
* Oil minister has warned Kurds on oil contract approach
* Salih meets French investors, Total present
By John Irish
PARIS, Dec 12 The prime minister of Iraq's
semi-autonomous Kurdish region expressed concerns about what he
said were "contradictory" remarks by the central government's
oil minister, which could delay a draft hydrocarbons law for the
Adoption of a new oil and gas law has long been considered
critical to the success of Iraq's rapidly developing oil sector,
although Baghdad has signed multibillion-dollar contracts with
global oil majors despite antiquated legal safeguards.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Prime Minister
Barham Salih of the Kurdistan Regional Government agreed during
talks in Baghdad in October that by Dec. 31, they would either
amend a 2007 hydrocarbons law as agreed by all political
factions or adopt the 2007 law as is.
"I have a firm commitment from PM Maliki to send the law to
parliament by year-end," Salih told Reuters after meeting
potential French investors in Paris on Monday.
"However, I have heard some contradictory remarks from the
oil minister recently," the 51-year old official said, adding
the oil minister had been privy to the accord between himself
In an interview on Friday, Oil Minister Abdul-Kareem Luaibi
said Kurdish authorities had to decide whether they wanted to be
part of Iraq or whether they had opted to be an independent
"It is not acceptable - and I'm talking here as an Iraqi
citizen not as oil minister - that the Kurds sign contracts that
award every single inch of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, without
the participation of the inhabitants of the 15 other provinces
in the decision," Luaibi told the Iraqi Oil Forum.
When pressed on whether he thought the draft law would be
presented as agreed, Salih said the nature of Iraqi politics
made it impossible to foresee but that, "It was time to move
on", so that Iraq could develop its oil wealth and boost its
"I cannot say we have managed to resolve these issues, but I
believe it is in the interest of the country as a whole that we
act together," the prime minister said.
Kurdish officials have repeatedly criticised a draft law
approved by Iraq's cabinet in August, which would have given the
Arab-dominated central government in Baghdad more control over
the nation's oil reserves, the world's fourth largest.
FRENCH INTEREST, OIL FIRM TOTAL IN WINGS
Salih, Iraq's deputy prime minister until 2009, spoke during
his first official trip to Paris to meet French officials and
company executives in an effort to drum up interest.
Only 11 French firms including cement producer Lafarge
, water group Veolia and food group Danone
operate in the region.
Oil major Total, which currently only participates
in Iraq's Hallfaya field, was among the 80 firms represented at
the meeting of the French business federation Medef.
Its Iraqi managing director chaired a special round table
with Kurdish oil officials on the scope and needs of hydrocarbon
projects in the region.
Salih declined to comment on whether there were talks with
Total or whether the firm had shown any interest in exploration
agreements. Total could not immediately be reached for comment.
Exxon became the first oil major to move into the
northern Kurdish region in mid-October when the U.S. company
signed with the Kurdistan Regional Government for six
exploration blocks. The KRG is locked in a feud with the central
government in Baghdad over territory and oil rights.
The Iraqi oil ministry has said the deal is illegal.
Salih declined to comment on that deal, but a promotional
video from the KRG shown to investors hailed the accord despite
"The stated centralised system of managing and commanding
our economy in Iraq has proven to be a failure, and the success
of Kurdistan as a viable economic model shows how to move beyond
the stagnation in Iraq's economy," Salih said.
(editing by Jane Baird)