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Word Count: 2,169
Total SA the French oil major that has been in Iraq since 1927 isnt saying much these days about how its going to maneuver its way back in But that doesnt mean it cant dram Word is that it has already had informal discussions wit ExxonMobil about forming a joint venture to exploit Iraqs Majnoon and Nahr bin Umar oilfields as soon as a new Iraqi government is formed Together those two fields have the potential to pump out 1 million barrels a day of sweet easily extracted and supremely profitable Iraqi crude There might be 250 billion barrels under Iraq good for 3 trillion of gross profit Not something the worlds pushiest oil company wants to leave on the table How galling for he globes fourth-largest--and only French-speaking--petroleum outfit Particularly since Total had negotiated a contract for Bin Umar with Saddam Hussein and Elf Aquitane which Total acquired in 2000 had done the same with Majnoon The Paris-based outfit regards Iraq as its historical turf But those contracts were never signed--a failed gambit in Totals cat-and-mouse game with Saddam Russias Lukoil pursued a different strategy signing with Baghdads butcher for the huge West Qurna field It is now trying to keep the deal alive So Totals stuck without a valid contract and little chance of getting back into those fields as sole operator But what its learned there would give any joint venture that includes it a years head start in getting the oil out Any takers It would accept a smaller stake in a joint venture just to get its foot back in the door says Valerie Marcel senior research fellow specializing in the oil sector at Londons Royal Institute of International Affairs We think theyve spoken to ExxonMobil but Total is being very careful--theres so much international scrutiny on Iraq right now that no one wants to take any unusual risks Total has good reason to walk on tiptoe these days
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