November 3, 2009 / 3:49 PM / 10 years ago

Iraq PM attacks lawmakers over oil minister summons

* Lawmakers to question oil minister on Nov. 11

* Maliki concerned about effect on investor confidence

By Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki attacked lawmakers on Tuesday for summoning the oil minister to discuss his distribution of the nation’s oil wealth, saying this sent the wrong message to those wanting to invest in Iraq.

Iraq’s government and lawmakers are divided over who has the right to authorise foreign oil deals, and parliamentarians are set to question Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani on Nov. 11.

The prime minister said that insurgents aimed to deter investors and weaken the government with twin suicide attacks last week, and the parliamentarians’ summoning of the oil minister might also undermine investor confidence.

“(The oil ministry) signed many important contracts, which will boost Iraq’s production and exporting ability,” the prime minister said in a statement. “For that, evil supporters of the past regime ... and al Qaeda ... want to send a message to investors through the last bombings.”

“Unfortunately, the (bombs) coincide with the calls to question the oil minister ... This questioning gives a discouraging message to the companies willing to enter Iraq’s oil market. It is in harmony with the saboteurs’ message.”

Last week, suspected al Qaeda-linked insurgents hit the Justice Ministry and Baghdad’s provincial government building killing more than 150 people. The attack was similar to bombings in August on the foreign and finance ministries.

On Tuesday, British oil major BP Plc (BP.L) and China’s CNPC inked Iraq’s first major new oil deal since the 2003 U.S. invasion for the giant Rumaila oilfield. [ID:nL3558520]

SHARP FALL IN VIOLENCE

Recent attacks dealt a blow to Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government as he campaigns for re-election in a parliamentary vote in January by seeking credit for a sharp fall in violence.

Iraq is trying to attract investment, especially in its oil sector. While attacks have fallen in the last two years, militant groups still stage spectacular strikes.

The nation of around 30 million people is on the verge of signing a raft of deals for its oilfields that could turn Iraq into the world’s third largest producer.

Iran and Turkey led commercial interest at Baghdad’s first international trade fair in more than six years which started at the weekend, at which the presence of 400 foreign firms showed the drop in violence has roused investors’ interest.

To secure the site, security forces shut down roads and helicopters hovered overhead. Iran had 60 firms there, Turkey 44, France 40 and Brazil 21. (Writing by Jack Kimball)

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