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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 17:35 GMT
Iraq 'could get state oil firm'
Iraqi oil refinery
Iraqis want to keep control of their national oil industry
US advisers and Iraqi officials are considering the setting up of a state-run oil company in Iraq, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move would significantly limit the role of foreign oil companies in Iraq, which has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world.

It also would help allay criticism that the US-led invasion was primarily aimed at securing control of oil fields.

"It's just pragmatism", a coalition authority adviser told the paper.

Protected from politics

Under the proposals, the day-to-day running of the company would be carried out by a professional management team.

While an oil minister would be ultimately responsible for what was happening, the company would be somewhat insulated from political interference, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said.

A similar structure is in place in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and according to Robert McKee, an oil adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority, "our preference is definitely in that direction".

Interim oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum is meeting separately with industry officials and plans to unveil a study on restructuring at an oil conference in Baghdad next month.

The advisers argue that a politically independent company would be able to boost production and improve operations without fuelling nationalistic anger that the country's assets were being stripped.

No decision yet

And that, in the long run, may help bring an end to the social unrest that has seen oil pipelines attacked and led to jostling between Kurds in the north and Shia in the south, the WSJ said.

A spokeswoman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US-led administration that has run Iraq since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, was keen to point out that Mr McKee's role is purely one of adviser.

The final decision on how Iraq's oil industry is run will ultimately be decided by the Iraqi people themselves.

"Nothing has been ruled out, nothing has been ruled in," she said.

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