Iraq, which now loses more than 10 percent of its crude oil output because of sabotage, hopes to announce a first round of bidding for oil projects soon after an oil and natural gas law is passed by the end of this year, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said Tuesday.
Shahristani, who is visiting Japan for loan talks with government officials, said that a number of international oil companies had already shown interest in oil projects in Iraq.
"A hydrocarbons law is expected to be passed by the Iraqi Parliament by the end of the year," Shahristani said. "Iraqi will announce which projects will be open" to foreign oil companies, he said. He did not identify the companies.
Shahristani arrived in Tokyo last weekend after a visit to China, where energy demand has been growing at a robust pace.
Late in September, China National Petroleum said it was ready to return to Iraq to develop an oil field, reviving a deal signed during the rule of Saddam Hussein, if it was officially invited to do so.
The project was effectively frozen by international sanctions and then by the toppling of Saddam's regime by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The cost of developing the field was estimated at $700 million.
The Iraqi Oil Ministry had said before China National Petroleum's comment that Shahristani was to visit China shortly and would discuss with Chinese companies the fulfilling of contracts signed with the former government.
The minister did not give any details Tuesday of his visit to China.
Iraq is seeking to raise its daily crude oil output to four million barrels by 2010 and six million in 2012-2013 from an estimated three million barrels this year by developing new oil fields jointly with international oil companies, Shahristani said.
Shahristani also said he had been talking with the Iraqi Defense Ministry about improving security along the country's oil pipelines to protect them from sabotage attacks.
Iraq would be able to restore as much as 400,000 barrels a day of oil production by tightening up pipeline security.
"That's what we are losing now," he said.
Shahristani was visiting Tokyo to negotiate a possible yen loan amounting to $3.5 billion to support Iraqi projects that the Japanese government said it was considering.
The Japanese Trade Ministry agreed Tuesday to lend Iraq up to ¥2.08 billion, or $17.4 million, which would be used in part to upgrade work at a refinery in Basra in the south of the country.