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Iraq’s government has tried and failed thus far to enact a national oil and gas law, in part because of a dispute over foreign participation.

The Shell joint venture reflects an attempt by the Oil Ministry to walk a fine line, attempting to push ahead despite a deadlocked parliament.

“The Ministry of Oil has the authority to sign the venture without going back to the parliament,” said Assem Jihad, a spokesman for Iraq’s Oil Ministry. “However, if the parliament requested clarity, we are ready to explain. The matter of fact is that this venture is for the interest of Iraq.”

The joint venture, however, has stirred opposition in parliament.

“It is a long-term monopoly that allows Shell to export gas when Iraq is in need of that gas,” said Jabir Khalifa Jabir, a member of the Shi’ite Fadhila Party and a member of the parliament’s Oil and Gas Committee.

“This joint venture will include all of Basra and more likely to [encompass] the entire region of the south,” said Mr. Jabir, whose party is the largest in Basra province.

He called the deal illegal and unconstitutional because local officials in Basra did not participate and warned that parliament should be involved if the venture develops new gas fields in the future.

Iraq’s once top-shelf state-run oil and gas industry was devastated by Saddam Hussein’s misuse, foreign sanctions and three wars in three decades. Infrastructure and equipment were harmed, and new technology and training were shut out.

Only 58 percent of demand for electricity in Iraq is being satisfied, according to the U.S. State Department’s Iraq Weekly Status Report, in part because of shortages of oil and gas.

More than 60 percent of Iraq’s natural gas production is burned or released into the air or reinjected into the ground because of insufficient infrastructure to transport and use the gas.

“Some 700 million standard cubic feet per day are currently being flared in the south of Iraq. The [joint venture] will initially focus on gathering this gas, hence reducing the flaring and turning this resource, currently being wasted, into value for Iraq,” said Shell spokeswoman Kirsten Smart.

“Iraq’s domestic market is where the initial focus will be. Ultimately, it’s up to the Iraq government what happens to the gas,” Miss Smart said.

Mr. Jihad denied that the joint venture would have a monopoly.

“It is only a partnership; there will not be monopoly of the gas. It is only the gas that is being wasted will be used, the gas that is currently wasted that will be exploited,” he said.

“After Iraq takes its needs from gas, Shell will buy the surplus at the international price,” he said.

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