Iraq Seeks to raise Profile with OPEC
Iraq currently exports around 2.45 million bpd
As Iraq increases oil output and emerges as a key supplier, it is
now pushing a candidate for OPEC secretary general, part of efforts
to boost its profile and retake a big role in the cartel it helped
Baghdad had for decades stood on the sidelines of the Organisation
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as a result of conflict and
sanctions during the rule of Saddam Hussein, and the violent
aftermath of his overthrow, highlighted by Iraq's removal from
OPEC's national production quota system.
But in recent years, Iraq has opened its oil sector to development
by foreign firms and increased its crude production, with further
dramatic increases in the works.
And although any successful candidate for the job requires unanimous
approval from the cartel's member states, meaning agreement on any
of the four proposed names is far from a sure thing when the
12-country grouping meets on June 14, the mere fact that an Iraqi
candidate is in the mix marks a sea change.
Baghdad's candidate, Thamir Ghadhban, is widely lauded as a
well-qualified technocrat who led the country's oil sector during,
arguably, its most difficult period in the years following the 2003
After the invasion, Ghadhban was named chief executive of Iraq's oil
industry, and subsequently adviser to the oil minister before
himself becoming the minister in 2004.
The 67-year-old, who holds a Master's degree in petroleum reservoir
engineering from Britain's prestigious Imperial College London,
worked in Iraq's oil industry for upwards of 30 years before more
recently heading Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's advisory committee.
Ghadhban is pitted against three other candidates, proposed
separately by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Ecuador. Of the four, only
Saudi Arabia's candidate is not a former oil minister, a position
OPEC secretary generals have traditionally held at some point.
"Thamir's own merits are so obvious that he's a great candidate,"
Venezuela's former oil minister Alirio Parra said by telephone from
London. "Over the years, I have dealt with him lots. He has all the
qualities that are necessary."
But Parra cautioned that the unanimity requirement made any
predictions over who would win the election complicated.
"There are four candidates, so you cannot say there is a
frontrunner," said Parra, who as a candidate for OPEC secretary
general in 1994 fell victim to the unanimity rule when he secured
the support of all cartel member states except for one.
"Don't expect results overnight. It is very difficult indeed for
candidates to be elected."
For Iraq, the election offers a chance for it to retake a leadership
role in OPEC, which was founded in Baghdad in September 1960 with it
as one of six member countries.
Since OPEC's founding, only one Iraqi has held the position of
secretary general -- Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz, who manned the post for
a year from 1964. Fadhil al-Chalabi was acting secretary general
And with Iran and Saudi Arabia traditionally holding opposing
positions within OPEC, there is potential that Ghadhban could emerge
as a compromise candidate of sorts.
According to one analyst, OPEC would benefit from Iraq being in the
"Putting Iraq in a position of responsibility means it has to act
responsibly towards everyone," said Ruba Husari, editor of
She added, alluding to Iraq's current production and large projected
increases in coming years, and its accompanying ability to affect
oil markets: "Instead of having a classroom with a (potential)
rebel, you put him in charge, so (he thinks), 'we have to satisfy
Iraq currently exports around 2.45 million barrels per day (bpd),
but this figure is set to increase dramatically in the coming years.
For now, Iraq remains a member of OPEC but does not have a national
quota for oil production, and Iraqi oil officials have mooted the
possibility of opening quota negotiations with the cartel once
production increases to between four to five million bpd.
It is projected to hit those figures from around 2015 onwards, and
with OPEC secretaries general serving a maximum of two three-year
terms, such negotiations could conceivably open with an Iraqi at the
helm, were Ghadhban successful.
"They should accommodate Iraq, especially at a time when quotas will
be discussed," an Iraqi oil official said, speaking on condition of
"They (OPEC member states) should take Iraq on board, and in reality
they should reward Iraq with this post, rather than block it."
"Iraq has been, in the past, marginalised" within OPEC, the official
said. "Now Iraq is back."