LONDON -(Dow Jones)- The semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq plans to publish details of the five existing oil contracts it has with foreign companies soon in a move to boost public confidence in the deals, Kurdish Regional Government Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami told reporters in London Thursday.
"We will publish the contracts so people can see we have nothing to hide," Hawrami said, adding: "People want to frighten the Iraqi people that their oil will be taken by foreign oil companies. This is simply not the case."
Hawrami said the giant Kirkuk oil field in the north, one of Iraq's biggest reservoirs, will remain under the management of the federal government irrespective of the outcome of the planned referendum this year that will determine whether Kirkuk becomes administered by the Kurdish government.
"The Kirkuk oil will stay with the federal government, as all existing oil fields will, whatever the outcome of the referendum there," Hawrami said.
The final status of Kirkuk has unnerved Turkey and other neighboring countries with their own Kurdish populations. These countries fear that a Kurdish victory in Kirkuk will leave the Kurds economically empowered enough - because of the area's oil wealth - to declare formal independence although the Kurds say this step won't be taken.
Hawrami, who was in London to speak to investors and the press on the status of Iraq's delayed oil law, said the Kurdish and federal government were examining the possibility of building a new pipeline to transport oil from Kirkuk through the relatively safe Kurdish region of Iraq into Turkey.
The existing Kirkuk-to-Turkey pipeline is routinely bombed by insurgents and local thugs, severely curtailing oil flows from the north.
Hawrami said foreign investors may be brought in to finance the pipeline, which regularly exported around 800,000 barrels a day before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The minister, who has been in his position since June, said the Kurdish government was poised to move forward and sign contracts with foreign oil companies even if the federal hydrocarbons law has not become law.
"We will go to our plan B which is to carry on," he said.
The Kurdish government was ready to sign several exploration contracts with foreign firms, he said.
"I have six or seven contracts on my desk waiting to be signed," he said.
Hawrami, however, said he was confident that the federal government and Iraq's different religious groups will be able to achieve an agreement that can be approved by Iraq's parliament in May.
-By Spencer Swartz, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 (0)20 78 42 9357; spencer.swartz@ dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires 03-22-071050ET Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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