By Salam Faraj (AFP)
Baghdad – Iraq expelled Turkish national energy firm TPAO on Wednesday from a consortium that won an exploration contract in south Iraq, in the latest sign of worsening ties between Baghdad and Ankara.
The two neighbours have been at odds over their responses to the Syrian conflict and Iraq has publicly urged Turkey to hand over fugitive Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi, who has been sentenced to death on charges of running a death squad.
The exploration deal was for a tract of land in oil-rich Basra province and had been awarded in May to Kuwait Energy, TPAO and Dragon Oil of the United Arab Emirates.
“For reasons to do with non-technical issues and outside the responsibility of my office and me personally … the Turkish company TPAO was excluded from the consortium,” said Abdul Mehdi Al-Amidi, head of the ministry’s contracting and licensing department.
“This decision is final, there is no approval to sign the contract for Block 9,” he added, referring to the exploration block in south Iraq. “The decision [to expel TPAO] is from the cabinet.”
Amidi said the contract included provisions allowing companies’ shares to be sold on to others and raised the possibility that Kuwait Energy would take over TPAO’s stake, increasing its share to 70 percent in the consortium, with Dragon Oil retaining the remaining 30 percent.
Block 9 is a 900-square-kilometre area near Iraq’s border with Iran, and is thought to contain oil.
The three-member consortium originally won the exploration contract for the block in a May 30-31 public auction in which they agreed to be paid a service fee of $6.24 per barrel of oil equivalent eventually extracted.
Amidi did not comment on why TPAO was expelled, but the decision comes amid icy ties between Iraq and Turkey.
Last month, Baghdad moved to end Turkey’s military presence in north Iraq where Ankara is pursuing Kurdish rebels, with the cabinet urging parliament to cancel treaties that allow foreign countries to maintain troops or bases on Iraqi territory, a decision that a senior official said was aimed at Turkey.
Turkey has since the 1990s maintained several military bases in the autonomous northern Kurdistan region where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebel group also has rear bases.
For several months, Turkey has refused to extradite Hashemi, who has now been handed four death sentences over the assassination of several officials and the attempted detonation of a car bomb targeting Shi’a pilgrims.
The two countries also have differing positions on the 19-month conflict in Syria, with Ankara publicly joining in Arab and Western calls for embattled President Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster, while Iraq has pointedly avoided calling for his departure.
Baghdad also protested against an August visit to Kirkuk, a disputed city in northern Iraq, by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu without the central government being informed in advance.