AP Interview: Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority

Jun 11, 2021, 11:08 AM | Updated: Jun 12, 2021, 7:34 am
CORRECTS SPELLING TO ISMAIL FROM ISMAEL - Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail,  Iraq Oil minister speaks duri...

CORRECTS SPELLING TO ISMAIL FROM ISMAEL - Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail, Iraq Oil minister speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, June 11, 2021. Iraq's oil sector is rebounding after a catastrophic year triggered by the coronavirus pandemic with key investment projects on the horizon, but the country's oil minister warned an enduring bureaucratic culture of fear threatens to stand in the way. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s oil sector is rebounding after a catastrophic year triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, with key investment projects on the horizon, Iraq’s oil minister said Friday. But he also warned that an enduring bureaucratic culture of fear threatens to stand in the way.

Iraq is currently trading oil at $68 per barrel, close to the approximately $76 needed for the state to operate without reliance on the central bank to meet government expenditures.

Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail took over the unenviable job of supervising Iraq’s most vital industry at the height of an oil price crash that slashed oil revenues by more than half last year. Since then, he has had to balance domestic demands for more revenue to fund state coffers and pressure from OPEC to keep exports low to stabilize the global oil market.

With the sector rebounding, Ismail told The Associated Press, he can now focus on other priorities. In the interview, he offered a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of the country’s most significant ministry — Iraq’s oil industry is responsible for 90% of state revenues.

He said cutthroat Iraqi politics and corruption fears often derailed critical investment projects during his tenure and those of his predecessors — a source of long-term frustration for international companies working in Iraq.

“In the Ministry of Oil, the big mistake, the big challenge are the delays in decision-making or no decision-making at all,” he said, attributing indecisiveness to fears of political reprisal from groups or powerful lawmakers whose interests are not served.

He described what he said was a warped work culture where allegations of corruption are used as tools by political players to get their way. He alleged that the mere possibility is often enough to keep high-ranking officials in ministry from signing off on important projects.

“This is the culture: To stay away from any case, to stay away from inspectors, to say ‘let us not do it,'” he added. “I think this is the corruption that slows the economy.”

He said that during his time as minister he has sought to fast-track projects, he said.

Top on his list is developing the country’s gas sector, a central condition for Iraq to be eligible for U.S. sanction waivers enabling energy imports from neighboring Iran. To that end, Iraq is looking to develop long-neglected gas fields and capture gas flared from oil sites.

Ismail said he is hopeful contracts will be signed within the coming months to develop key projects that could boost Iraq’s gas capacity by 3 billion cubic standard feet by 2025. But that all depends on closing the deal with oil companies; lucrative contract negotiations in Iraq have a history of stalling once commercial terms are laid out.

Iraq currently imports 2 billion standard cubic feet to meet domestic needs.

The ministry is close to signing with China’s Sinopec to develop Mansuriya gas field in Diyala province, said Ismail. The field could add 300 million standard cubic feet of gas to domestic production. He hopes to finalize the deal by mid-July.

The ministry is also in talks with France’s Total to develop an ambitious multi-billion dollar mega investment project in southern Iraq, including the Ratawi gas hub, development of Ratawi oil field and a scheme to provide water to oil fields required to boost production.

Early talks are also ongoing to develop Akkas gas field in Anbar province, with the American Schlumberger and Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco, he said, expressing hopes for an agreement there too.

Though negotiations with international companies have picked up speed, Ismail said entrenched indecision within his ministry persists. Investors have blamed glacial bureaucracy and indecision within ministry ranks for thwarting projects.

Among his deepest regrets is the collapse in talks — after five years of negotiations — between the ministry and Exxon-Mobil over a multi-billion dollar investment project that would have been key to increasing Iraq’s production and exports.

“For me it was a big mistake from our side,” said Ismail, who was the former director-general of the state-owned Basra Oil Company.

Ismail himself came under scrutiny when lawmakers accused him of corruption. The Cabinet dismissed him as head of the Basra company in October 2019 during a purge against alleged corruption. He was reinstated a few months later.

Iraqi media are often used as a pressure tool, Ismail said

“Someone sends me a contract, and it would be illegal to say yes, so I say no, and he starts to say bad things in the media,” Ismail said.

Also, he said 80% of his time is spent fielding requests from political parties and individuals asking for employment, contracts or job transfers — requests he says he routinely rejects.

“They say: ‘Move this person from this position to this, we need this position, we need this department, we need this company’,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Boxes of the drug mifepristone line a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa...
Associated Press

Medication abortion is common; here’s how it works

Medication abortions became the preferred method for ending pregnancy in the U.S. even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. These involve taking two prescription medicines days apart — at home or in a clinic. Abortion procedures are an invasive medical technique that empties the womb. They are sometimes called surgical abortions, although they […]
6 hours ago
People wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 ride a subway in Paris, Thursday, June 30, 20...
Associated Press

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

NICE, France (AP) — Tourism is booming again in France — and so is COVID-19. French officials have “invited” or “recommended” people to go back to using face masks but stopped short of renewing restrictions that would scare visitors away or revive antigovernment protests. From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people […]
6 hours ago
File-File photo shows view of pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the...
Associated Press

Regulator urges Germans to prepare for possible gas shortage

BERLIN (AP) — Fearing Russia might cut off natural gas supplies, the head of Germany’s regulatory agency for energy called on residents Saturday to save energy and to prepare for winter, when use increases. Federal Network Agency President Klaus Mueller urged house and apartment owners to have their gas boilers and radiators checked and adjusted […]
6 hours ago
Soldiers wrap bodies of victims of a mudslide in Noney, northeastern Manipur state, India, Friday, ...
Associated Press

Rescuers recover 26 dead from mudslide in India’s northeast

GAUHATI, India (AP) — Fresh rain and falling boulders on Saturday hampered rescuers who have so far pulled out 26 bodies from the debris of a mudslide that wiped out a railroad construction site in India’s northeast, officials said. Rescue work is expected to continue for a couple of days in rugged hilly terrain with […]
6 hours ago
FILE -  A coal-fired power station in Witbank, South Africa , Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. South Africans...
Associated Press

South Africans struggle in the dark to cope with power cuts

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africans are struggling in the dark to cope with increased power cuts that have hit households and businesses across the country. The rolling power cuts have been experienced for years but this week the country’s state-owned power utility Eskom extended them so that some residents and businesses have gone without power […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Virgin Orbit rocket launches 7 US defense satellites

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Virgin Orbit rocket carrying seven U.S. Defense Department satellites was launched from a special Boeing 747 flying off the Southern California coast and streaked toward space Friday night. The modified jumbo jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the Mojave Desert and released the rocket over the […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
AP Interview: Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority