Iraq’s premier pledged on Thursday to take the “necessary steps” if American energy giant ExxonMobil implemented a controversial oil exploration deal with the autonomous northern Kurdish region.
“We remind the company of its commitments, and the need to follow the recommendations of the government,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement on his website.
If ExxonMobil did not comply with Iraq’s demands that it abandon its deal in Kurdistan, “the government will take the necessary steps to enforce the law and prevent the company from implementing its contracts,” the statement said.
In October, ExxonMobil signed an oil exploration deal with the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq covering six areas, including two that are said to be outside the region and claimed by both Baghdad and Kurdistan.
The central government says all oil contracts must go through Baghdad and regards any that do not as illegal. It has said in recent months that the deal has been frozen, which Kurdistan has denied.
The spat is one of several between the central government in Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Arbil.
Maliki sent a letter to US President Barack Obama last month “urging him to intervene to prevent” ExxonMobil from carrying out its contract, the premier’s spokesman Ali Mussawi said at the time.
“Maliki views these deals as representing a very dangerous initiative that may lead to the outbreak of wars” and “breaking up the unity of Iraq,” Mussawi said of the Kurdistan contract.
“Maliki is prepared to go to the highest levels for the sake of preserving the national wealth and the necessary transparency in investing the wealth of the Iraqis, especially oil,” Mussawi said.
The Iraqi prime minister’s statement, meanwhile, said Obama’s written response to the letter was “positive and convincing and emphasised respect for the constitution and the laws of Iraq.