LONDON (Dow Jones)--Iraq should invest in the return of exiled oil workers instead of signing deals with foreign companies, a long-term campaigner said Thursday.
Critics of Iraq's decision to bring majors in the Arab country are stepping up their campaign as it plans next week to announce the first oil contracts since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.
Speaking to reporters, Greg Muttit, in charge of Iraq at oil campaigning group Platform, said the "main problem is that the best people are now outside the country," not the lack of available technical and financial resources. Many oil professional left the country under the regime of Saddam Hussein and then after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was followed by widespread insecurity.
To lure them back, Iraq should invest in salaries and bodyguards, Muttit said. He dismissed the need to bring foreign majors because of financial needs saying billions remain unspent in Iraq's treasury.
He said "technologies are needed because of sanctions but there is no need to sign away resources" because they could be brought by oil services companies such as Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB).
Another argument put forward by majors is the necessity of expertise in large project management.
But Muttit said Iraqis have a good experience in running large projects and "could be more succefull ... as they are not distracted by other agenda" such as the need to allocate resources elsewhere.
In addition, he said the "companies will be targets of the insurgency" as soon as they enter Iraq. But he said the most fundamental issue, in his eyes, is that "Iraq is an occupied country" and any deal "will reflect the interest of the occupation." The decisions to grant oil contracts "should be made when (Iraq) is sovereign," he said.