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Big Oil Firms Ready to Sign Agreements With Iraq

"It demonstrates that the private sector is beginning to get interested in Iraq, that it recognizes the tremendous potential for Iraq to become an even more major oil supplier," Rice told Fox News. "That's really a good sign, and it will be a good sign if Iraq can increase its oil production, because of course the supply and demand of oil is a major concern to all of us."

Iraq's oil reserves are among the largest in the world, but years of economic sanctions, war and political turmoil have taken a toll on the industry. During the first few months of this year, output reached 2 million barrels a day. Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister, told parliament this year that output could more than double within five years.

Officials at some of the oil companies that are expected to sign contracts issued muted statements.

A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil, regarded as one of the most risk-adverse players in the industry, said the company would be interested in working in Iraq.

Toby Odone, a BP spokesman, said the company has been providing technical assistance to Iraq for years and is formalizing its role in the country.

Shell spokesman Adam Newton said that the company is negotiating "service agreements" with the Iraqi Oil Ministry but that the details are confidential.

Total spokesman Kevin Church confirmed that the company is discussing its future role in West Qurna, one of Iraq's largest oil fields in the south.

Large energy companies have in recent years lost ground in oil-rich countries such as Russia and Venezuela, as governments have tightened their control over the industry.

Manouchehr Takin, a senior analyst at the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies, said the names of the companies negotiating contracts is not surprising.

"They're the big international companies," he said. "They're qualified and experienced."

Baribeau reported from Washington. Special correspondent Dalya Hassan in Baghdad and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.

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