December 17, 2007 / 12:54 PM / 11 years ago

Iraq picks Russia firm to fix Syria pipeline

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iraq has invited Russia’s Stroytransgaz to submit an offer to re-activate an oil export pipeline to Syria’s Mediterranean terminal of Banias, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said on Monday.

The company, which has contracts in Syria and Saudi Arabia, will make the offer to the Iraqi government in Baghdad no later than January 10, he told Reuters.

“We will discuss with Stroytransgaz what they come up with. We are clear and serious about this project,” Saleh said in an interview in the Syrian capital.

Saleh made it clear that progress on the pipeline, as well as developing a gas field near the Syrian border and exporting the product through Syria, was linked to security cooperation from the Damascus government.

“Those terrorists who have infiltrated Iraq from its borders have killed thousands of Iraqis. There is no room to compromise on this issue,” Saleh said.

“Our policy is to create mutual interests with neighbouring countries so that Iraq could be a cornerstone for regional stability and economic progress,” he said.

The pipeline is linked to Iraq’s northern Kirkuk oilfields.

Syria has a 600-km (375 mile) border with Iraq. U.S. forces bombed the 300,000 barrel per day pipeline on the Iraqi side during the 2003 invasion that removed Saddam Hussein from power.

Saleh did not reveal a timetable for the repairs, but said security in the northern and western Iraqi areas where the 800 km (550 mile) pipeline runs has improved.

“We cannot describe the security progress made lately as little. One reason no doubt is cooperation between Iraq and Syria, but we still look forward to take the security ties to a higher level,” Saleh said.

“We have a timeline set for work on the pipeline, which will expand our oil export options. Our oil export volumes so far have been unacceptable,” Saleh said.

Post Saddam governments have struggled to export oil through another pipeline linking Kirkuk to Turkey as it has come under repeated sabotage attacks.

The Turkey pipeline was strengthened with a new section this year and has seen more reliable flows in recent months, adding to Iraq’s crude exports, most of which flow through an offshore terminal on the Gulf.

Saleh, a senior Kurdish politician, is the latest Iraqi official to visit Damascus and make the Banias pipeline a focus of talks. Syria, under United States sanctions since 2004, has been taking steps to counter isolation from the West and enhance its economic position.

Resuming Iraqi oil exports through Banias would net Syria an estimated $1-$1.5 billion (496-744 million pounds) a year in transit fees.

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