Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told sheiks assembled in Karbala, south of Baghdad, that improved security in the nation has prompted many companies to seek out investment opportunities in Iraq. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.
Prime Minister Maliki thanked the sheikhs for their support of Iraqi-led military operations throughout the country, including the current offensive to stop arms smugglers and militants in the southeastern city of Amarah.
Mr. Malki said the support shows that tribal leaders are putting the needs of Iraq as a nation ahead of their own personal desires.
"The prime minister said security gains have lured investors back to Iraq," he said. "He emphasized that many companies are approaching the government in Baghdad to secure construction, electricity and oil contracts."
He said these companies, especially those in the oil sector, had avoided investing in Iraq in recent years because of conflict and instability.
Mr. Maliki said the government has granted 35 licenses to various oil companies that want to do business in Iraq because they demonstrated a belief in the secure future of the nation. He did not specify which companies were granted licenses.
A few days ago, a spokesman for Iraq's Oil Ministry announced it was preparing to award oil contracts to U.S.-based Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Britain's BP and France's Total.
With the exception of Chevron, those oil companies, or their predecessors, had been partners in the original Iraq Petroleum Company, dating back to the 1920s. They stopped operating in Iraq when the nation's oil industry was nationalized in 1972.
According to an Iraqi government report presented at an international conference in Sweden last month, Iraq's energy sector is the most vital part of the nation's economy. It accounts for 64 percent of Iraq's Gross Domestic Product and 84 percent of the national budget. The report also says the energy sector has the potential to fund significant improvements in Iraq's infrastructure and services.
Iraq says it hopes collaboration with major oil companies will lead to a significant rise in production, resulting in an additional output of about 500,000 barrels per day within one year.
But the nation's hydrocarbon law is still pending. The government says that the legislation is aimed at improving the environment for foreign investment and expansion of the oil and gas sectors, while creating transparent, equitable revenue sharing.
In addition to heralding the investment opportunities that could improve Iraq's economic stability, Mr. Maliki emphasized the importance of national peace.
He said to build a better Iraq, the citizens of Iraq must talk about unity, equality and solidarity. Mr. Maliki described dialogue as the key to a lasting peace, and he said recent security gains would be maintained through dialogue and not military action.