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Oil is emerging as the key factor in US attempts to secure the support of Russia and France for military action against Iraq according to an Observer investigation The Bush administration intimately with the global oil industry is keen to pounce on Iraqs massive untapped reserves the second biggest in the world after Saudi Arabias But France and Russia who hold a power of veto on the UN Security Council have billion-dollar contracts with Baghdad which they fear will disappear in an oil grab by Washington if America installs a successor to Saddam A Russian official at the United Nations in New York told the Observer last week that the 7 billion in Soviet-era debt was not the main economic interest in Iraq about which the Kremlin is voicing its concerns The main fear was a post-Saddam government would not honour extraction contracts Moscow has signed with Iraq Russian business has long-standing interests in Iraq Lukoil the biggest oil company in Russia signed a 20bn contract in 1997 to drill the West Qurna oilfield Such a deal could evaporate along with the Saddam regime together with a more recent contract with Russian giant Zarubezhneft which was granted a potential 90bn concession to develop the bin Umar oilfield The total value of Saddams foreign contract awards could reach 11 trillion according to the International Energy Agencys World Energy Outlook 2001 The Russian official said his government believed the US had brokered a deal with the coalition of Iraqi opposition forces it backs whereby support against Saddam is conditional on their declaring - on taking power - all oil contracts conceded under his rule to be null and void The concern of my government said the official is that the concessions agreed between Baghdad and numerous enterprises will be reneged upon and that US companies will enter to take the greatest share of those existing contracts Yes if you could say it that
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