RAMADI, Iraq — Sunni leaders in Anbar, an ex-bastion of insurgents, warned on Thursday that foreign firms will not be allowed to work unless the Iraqi province's residents benefit from a gas field development.
"We will not help the companies and the population could even create trouble preventing companies from working if the gas is not used to feed electricity stations and give work to residents," said Mukhles Ibrahim, a prominent Anbar businessman in Qaim, a town near the Syrian border.
A South Korean company, the Korean Gas Corp, and KazMunai of Kazakhstan have secured a 50-50 joint venture to develop the Akkaz gas field in Anbar province, 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Qaim.
Discovered in 1992 and covering an area of 50 kilometres by 18 kilometres, with estimated capacity of 158 billion cubic metres (5.6 trillion cubic feet), Akkaz is the largest of three gas fields awarded at an international auction in Baghdad on Wednesday.
The bid which won the contract with Iraq's oil ministry offered 5.50 dollars per oil-barrel-equivalent and a plateau production of 400 million cubic feet (11 million cubic metres) per day over a 13-year period.
"We reject these contracts because the government never respects the promises made to Iraqis. In Qaim we still have no electricity, no sewage system, no roads, and 80 percent unemployment," said Nawaf Ghada, another leading figure in the town.
"If the companies come to invest in Akkaz, they must cooperate and serve the people of the region," said Ghada, whose province was a no-go zone for foreigners in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Dozens of tribal chiefs and schoolchildren held a demonstration on Wednesday in Ramadi, the provincial capital, as the gas sale was taking place in Baghdad, chanting: "We will cut off the hand of anyone who tries to steal our wealth."
Ramadi's provincial council, ahead of the gas auction, insisted the government come out with a strategic investment plan for energy resources to be used to improve the living standards of Iraqis.
"We reject any gas export project and we will take all legal measures to prevent the government from neglecting our decisions," the council said in a statement on Monday.
Iraqis are currently being limited to an average five hours of electricity a day.
With the gas deals, Iraq will produce an extra 800 million cubic feet (22.9 million cubic metres) of gas a day in six years, enough to boost electricity output by 3,000 megawatts a day, said Ruba Husari, founder of iraqoilforum.com.
Iraq's current gas production -- all of it associated gas from oil wells -- is 1.5 billion cubic feet (42 million cubic metres) a day, but half is burned off in flares from oil wells, Husari told AFP.
"If the government acts against the interests of our province, we will react in different ways, such as a civil disobedience campaign or the resignation of elected officials," said Jassem Hamad al-Halbussi, the Ramadi council chairman.
But Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani remained adamant.
"The development of gas and oil is the responsibility of the government and no-one else. We will not allow anybody to delay the implementation of contracts and we will punish those who harm the national economy," he said.
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