Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Iraq: Ninevah seeks own deal

Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad over the energy issue were stoked further this month when Ninevah waded into the heart of the battle. The head of the Ninevah governorate council, Atheel Al-Najayfi , a member of Iraqiya and brother of the head of parliament, Osama Najayfi , put the cat among the pigeons when he declared that he was in support of ExxonMobil 's Kurdish deal. It was also alleged that Al-Najayfi had struck his own deal with the Kurds, in which he had agreed to hand over 10km 2 of land from the governorate, comprising the oil-rich areas of Sheikhan and Quosh, so that the area could be included in the ExxonMobil deal.

It later emerged that such allegations were somewhat overplayed. Al-Najayfi admitted that his discussions with the KRG were still in their early stages and had not got as far as striking any deal. He told the local media, “We never discussed the reality of these contracts with the KRG… We were just in the initial stages. The second stage would be to go through legal bodies.”

However, it also emerged that Al-Najayfi had got as far as establishing and heading a factfinding mission and that he had contacted the US embassy in Baghdad to ask for its help in contacting ExxonMobil. When the embassy declined to contact the oil major on the mission's behalf, it asserted that it would find other ways to get in touch with the oil giant.

Atheel's request was a totally unexpected move from the Sunni camp. Given the tensions between the Sunnis and the Kurds in the area, it seems almost inconceivable that Atheel would have made such an overture to the KRG. However, his doing so was his way of sending a clear message to Baghdad: the government has failed to invest enough in Ninevah and thus the governorate wants greater control over its own resources. Atheel complained that the governorate has been marginalised and that it has had no say in the contracts signed for blocks in the region so far.

Furthermore, the move should be considered within the context of the political crisis that has enveloped the country. This was Atheel Al- Najayfi's way of taking a pot shot at Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki . As he told the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper after the news broke, “Until now we are not party to the contract but I am saying that we have to negotiate with our brothers in the KRG and the American company to guarantee our governorate rights and the governorate council needs to give its authorisation to enter into discussions.” He also declared, “Ninevah must be engaged in oil investments and not away from them, whether through contracts that the KRG has signed or that the central government has signed. We need oil and electricity.”

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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