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MarketWatch: Western companies may get 75% of Iraqi oil profits

Last Update: 7:34 PM ET Jan 8, 2007
(This article was originally published Monday.)


Iraq’s massive oil reserves may be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies – which could end up grabbing up to 75% of the beleagured nation’s oil profits – under a law seen coming before the Iraqi parliament within days, the Independent reported on its Web site Monday.

A draft of this controversial law, which the U.S. government has been helping to craft and has been seen by the Independent, would give oil giants such as BP PLC (BP), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) and ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM) 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and let these foreign oil companies undertake their first large-scale operations in the country since the industry was nationalized in 1972.

Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would allow Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. However, opponents say Iraq, where oil accounts for 95% of the economy, is being forced to surrender an unacceptable degree of sovereignty, the Independent reported.

Supporters counter that the 75%-profit provision will last only until they have recouped their initial drilling costs. After that, they would collect about 20% of profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. This is still twice the industry average for such deals.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, who chairs the country’s oil committee, is expected to unveil the legislation as early as Monday and the government hopes to have the law enacted by March, according to the report.

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