Iraq's Kurdistan works to establish two oil firms as Erbil-Baghdad tensions rise



By Rowena Edwards

June 17 (Reuters) - Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is working to establish two oil firms, the latest move in the battle between Erbil and Baghdad to control the oil sector in the semi-autonomous region.

The KRG's new oil firm KROC would specialise in oil exploration, while the second - KOMO - would focus on oil exports and marketing from the semi-autonomous region, a spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.

The regional government has presented the idea and discussed it with the federal government in Baghdad recently, the KRG spokesperson said in a statement.

The statement follows months of disputes between Erbil and Baghdad after a February federal court ruling that deemed the legal foundations of the Kurdistan region's oil and gas sector unconstitutional.

The oil ministry in Baghdad has since made fresh attempts to control revenue from the Kurdistan region, including summoning seven firms operating there to a commercial court on May 19. The firms were Addax, DNO, Genel, Gulf Keystone, HKN, Shamaran and WesternZagros.

The commercial court sitting has been postponed twice as some of the representation for these international oil firms did not have power of attorney, several sources told Reuters. The court session is due to resume on Monday, June 20.

As well as announcing plans to establish its own oil company in the Kurdistan region, the Iraqi oil ministry has ordered international lead contractors and subcontractors through Basrah Oil (BOC) and Iraq's national oil firm (Inoc) to pledge not to work on contracts or projects there.

Through letters sent on June 7 and 12, the firms were given three months to terminate existing contracts or projects in the KRG oil sector or face being blacklisted, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The oil ministry is using two law firms - Vincent and Elkins and Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton - to help with gaining control of the KRG oil sector, according to two sources. Both firms have declined to comment.

The KRG has repeatedly rejected the federal court ruling. On June 5, the KRG's ministry of natural resources filed a civil suit against the minister of oil in Baghdad, Ihsan Ismael, for sending emails and letters to intimidate oil firms operating in the Kurdistan region and for interfering with the contractual rights of these firms and the KRG, according to a June 13 statement.

Also on June 5, the Erbil court of investigation ruled that the commercial court sessions against international oil firms must be brought to the Erbil court.

There have been years of attempts by the federal government to bring KRG revenues under its control, including local court rulings and threats of international arbitration.

The implications of the latest dispute are not fully clear as more than eight months since elections in Iraq, the formation of a government is still underway.
Reporting by Rowena Edwards in London, additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Dubai, and the Baghdad newsroom. Editing by Mark Heinrich, Mark Potter and David Evans

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