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French Version

Make Oil clinches lucrative deal to build refinery in Iraqi Kurdistan

Lebanon's Make Oil Company is expected to start building a $3 billion oil refinery in Iraqi Kurdistan within one month, company management told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

The firm expects to sign a contract with the Iraqi Natural Resources Ministry in about three weeks and can start construction immediately in Dhouk, near Irbil, Make Oil general manager Ahmad Kheireddine said.

Construction should last between two and three years, and once completed the refinery will be able to handle 250,000 barrels per day, said Make Oil lead engineer Mahmoud Darwish. The company's investors for the Kurdistan refinery hail from the Gulf, Europe and the United States.

Make Oil has also proposed to build a smaller refinery in Dhouk that can launch operations in nine months, while work on the bigger facility continues, Kheireddine said.

Make Oil is also among the bidders to build a $2.2 billion refinery in Basra. That project would take about two and a half years to finish,and would have a capacity of 150,000 barrels per day, Darwish said.

Make Oil's biggest problem in completing the Basra deal is getting to Basra - because of the sectarian conflict in Iraq, company executives are unwilling to travel there to finish negotiating the deal. But Kheireddine expressed hope that the contract would be signed in two or three months if the situation allowed it.

In Kurdistan as in Basra, Make Oil has faced fierce competition from Gulf oil firms, many of which enjoy vast financial resources and experience. The Lebanese say their good relationships with the ministry and the Kurds have helped their cause, and they are eager to build factories and public-works projects in Kurdistan.

The raging war in Iraq has not affected Make Oil's work, nor should the refinery be a target for attack, officials said.

"There's no danger in Kurdistan," Kheireddine said. "It's a separate territory. We're not taking a risk."

Make Oil officials also brushed aside talk of Kurdistan becoming an independent country - Turkey and the US will not allow the Kurds to secede, according to Make Oil deputy general manager Samer Zeitoun.

"This won't happen," Zeitoun said. "Even if this happens, we won't have any problem."

The Kurdistan project will be the first refinery built by Make Oil, which has offices in Germany, Spain, England, Sudan and Syria.

Aside from the Iraqi quagmire, oil prices will continue to climb for a long time thanks to China's strong economic growth, Kheireddine said.

"The Chinese need for oil is increasing," he said.

Despite the recent softness on the market, prices should rise again before the end of the year, Kheireddine said. A barrel of crude cost about $61 when trading opened Tuesday morning, down 20 percent for the year, but up about $5 per barrel since mid-November.

Beirut,12 12 2006
The Daily Star
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