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Oil boost for Iraq Kurds

Jeudi 1 decembre 2005 à 04h38

ZAKHO, Iraq, Dec 1 (AFP) — A Norwegian company started drilling for oil this week deep inside Iraq's Kurdish north, in a move that offers the Kurds hope of a resource base for their hard-won autonomy, regardless of the fate of their decades-old claim to the oil city of Kirkuk.

The ousted regime of Saddam Hussein fought a ferocious campaign against the Kurds' demand for Kirkuk to be incorporated in their autonomous region, expelling tens of thousands of Kurdish residents to make way for Arab settlers in a bid to deny them the province's oil wealth.

But the Tawke 1 well being drilled by the DNO oil company east of Zakho, near the Turkish border, lies in Dohuk governorate, one of the three far-northern provinces which the Kurds controlled even before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

Magne Normann of DNO said the well was of particular interest because the three prospective reservoirs were believed to contain high quality light sweet crude that is easy to refine.

"We can't give any precise figure about the reserves in this area until we reach the oil," he said, predicting that it would take around 60 days to hit oil at a depth of about 3,000 metres (10,000 feet).

The president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Massoud Barzani, was represented at the project's launch by his nephew Nigirvan, who described it as "historic".

"This project will contribute to the growth of the Kurdish economy and its reconstruction," he said.

"The time when the Kurdish people will no longer be oppressed and will profit from its own riches has finally arrived."

Fruit of the first new oil prospecting by a foreign company in Iraq in more than 20 years, the project holds out the prospect of a safer and more reliable source of exports than the Kirkuk fields, where output is frequently halted by insurgent sabotage.

Still patrolled by Kurdish militiamen, the overwhelmingly Kurdish Zakho area has been largely spared the attacks of Sunni Arab insurgents.

But the project also threatens to raise the thorny issue of who in the new Iraq controls the country's potentially huge oil wealth.

The production-sharing agreement for the Tawke 1 project was signed with the Kurdish regional government in June last year.

But a new constitution adopted by referendum in October gave the federal government in Baghdad responsibility for managing Iraq's oil resources.

Article 108 states that "oil and gas are the ownership of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates."

The following article gives the federal government responsibility for managing Iraq's oilfields "provided that it distributes oil and gas revenues in a fair manner in proportion to the population distribution in all parts of the country."

The ultimate division of responsibility between Baghdad and the Kurdish autonomous administration is likely to affect more than just the Tawke 1 project.

A US-Turkish consortium is to start drilling soon elsewhere in the three northern provinces, said Sarbar Horami, of the regional government's oil and gas commission.

Another contract has been signed with a British-Portuguese consortium, he added.

Les informations ci-dessus de l'AFP n'engagent pas la responsabilité de l'Institut kurde de Paris.