BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki expects to finalise a deal to sell India more crude oil during a visit to New Delhi over the next few days, Maliki said on Thursday.
Iraq was India's biggest supplier of crude in June, pipping Saudi Arabia to the top slot, while imports from Iran, which used to be India's second-biggest supplier, have slumped due to sanctions.
Indian energy companies are also interested in Iraqi oil exploration and refinery projects and Maliki's four-day visit may see in some preliminary agreements on Indian investments in the increasingly important OPEC oil producer.
"Iraq welcomed this desire by India to initiate this cooperation in the energy area which includes a deal ... to supply India with oil," Maliki said at a press conference in Baghdad before leaving for India.
India's imports of crude oil from Iran have more than halved from a year ago, hitting just 140,800 bpd in June, with Essar Oil (ESRO.NS) the only remaining Indian client of the sanctions-hit country.
Tensions between Iran and Iraq have simmered for decades, spilling into outright war during the 1980s, but they are now focused on the battle for market share as Iran struggles with the impact of western sanctions on its sales.
The United States and European Union have made it increasingly difficult for Iran to sell oil by imposing sanctions on finance and insurance as they target funding for Tehran's controversial nuclear programme. (Addtional reporting by Nidhi Verma in Delhi. Writing by Daniel Fineren; Editing by Jeff Coelho)
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