By John Lee.

Russia will continue to supply Iraq with T-90S main battle tanks (MBTs), according to a report from Army Recognition.

Vladimir Kozhin, Russian presidential aide for military and technical cooperation, told Rossiya 24 TV:

“Iraq is our traditional partner and it has been boosting its potential by ordering our equipment. Today we are equipping there an entire armored brigade, our equipment is supplied there.”

Iraq confirmed receiving the first batch of 36 T-90S in February, and by late April it is expected to receive another batch of 37.

The T-90S MBT is made by the Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), a subsidiary of Russian Technologies (Rostec).

(Source: Army Recognition)

(Picture Credit: Aleksey Kitaev)

By Laura Rozen for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The dealmaker: Mueller witness helped broker $4.2 billion Iraq-Russia arms deal

A Lebanese-American businessman reported to be cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe helped broker a controversial 2012 Iraq-Russia arms deal valued at $4.2 billion, Iraqi sources tell Al-Monitor.

The Russia arms deal

George Nader, 58, traveled to Moscow in 2012, telling Russian interlocutors that he represented Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the deal should be negotiated through him, according to two Iraqi sources. Nader’s role in the deal was controversial to Iraqi officials because Iraq’s minister of defense was in Russia to conduct the negotiations, and they were unaware that Maliki was working with Nader to bypass official channels.

One of the Iraqi sources, a former Iraqi official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition that he not be named, personally witnessed Nader’s interactions with Maliki in their Moscow hotel when he accompanied Maliki to Moscow in October 2012 to sign the arms deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nader’s career as a deal broker in Iraq ran from the mid-2000s until Maliki left office in 2014, the Iraqi sources said. Nader then became an adviser to the powerful Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It is in that capacity that Nader’s meetings with members of the incoming Donald Trump administration in 2016-2017 — including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former chief strategist Steve Bannon — brought Nader to Mueller’s attention.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Nader was arrested and questioned by the FBI when he landed at Washington Dulles International Airport on Jan. 17 en route to celebrate Trump’s first year in office at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He was questioned by Mueller’s grand jury March 2 and is reported to now be cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

One line of inquiry Mueller is reported to be questioning Nader about is whether the United Arab Emirates (UAE) might have funneled money to members of the incoming Trump administration in an effort to curry influence with them, including in their dispute with Qatar.

From journalist to deal-maker

Nader’s recent career as a Middle East deal broker is both an outgrowth and departure from his past. As an editor of Middle East Insight magazine in Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, Nader interviewed President Bill Clinton and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

During this time, Nader also served as a frequent go-between in informal Syrian-Israeli talks encouraged by the Clinton administration before abruptly disappearing from the Washington scene around 2000.

“He was a reliable go-between, a facilitator,” Martin Indyk, who knew Nader when Indyk served as Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and ambassador to Israel in the 1990s, told Al-Monitor. “He was not a con man.”

Nader was connected to the Hafez al-Assad regime through then-Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and then-Syrian Ambassador to the US and current Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, Indyk said. “He was going to Israel from time to time. He set up an interview of [Syrian Foreign Minister al-Sharaa] with Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari as a confidence-building measure. George is the one that made that happen. … Then he hooked up with [Ron] Lauder. He traveled with Lauder 16 times to Damascus in 1998” in efforts to advance an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.

“And then when the Clinton administration was gone, George was gone,” Indyk, now executive vice president of the Brookings Institution, said.

“Last time I heard from [Nader] was after the US invasion of Iraq,” journalist Hisham Melham told Al-Monitor. “He called me from Kurdistan. But why would MBZ [the crown prince] need him when he has [UAE Ambassador] Yousef Al Otaiba?”

From dabbling in Syria-Israel peace talks to Iraq postwar dealmaker

Nader appeared in Iraq in the mid-2000s, looking to translate his Rolodex of connections from his Middle East Insight days into work advising various Iraqi political clients, including some of Iraq’s new Shiite political leaders, as well as Kurdish officials.

According to Iraqi sources, Nader helped arrange meetings for the 2005 visit to Washington of leading members of an Iraqi Shiite political party with close ties to Iran, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. In 2010, Nader similarly arranged meetings for then-Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani with high-level UAE officials, including the crown prince, a second Iraqi source now living in exile told Al-Monitor. But Nader failed to win over the KRG leader, the second Iraqi source said.

“Nader got Nechirvan Barzani meetings with MBZ and [Lebanese Prime Minister] Saad Hariri,” the second Iraqi source said, adding that he advised Iraqi Kurdish interlocutors at the time to be wary of Nader.

Nader had a “knack for claiming that he had unique access to ‘mysterious’ persons,” the second Iraqi source said. “This way he would be able to latch on from one new confidant to another.”

By 2012, Nader had forged close ties with the Iraqi prime minister and Maliki’s son and deputy chief of staff, Ahmed Maliki, Iraqi sources said. Nader had worked with the younger Maliki on power generation projects, the former Iraqi official said. The relationship that Nader forged with Maliki’s son apparently brought Nader into the father’s inner circle when the huge Russian arms deal was being negotiated.

In August 2012, Iraq’s Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaimi spent 24 days in Moscow to finalize negotiations for the $4.2 billion Russian arms deal. But during the negotiations, the former Iraqi official told Al-Monitor that he received a message from former Russian Energy Minister Yuri Shafranik warning him that there were other people in Moscow claiming that they, and not the defense minister, were representing Maliki, and that the deal should go through them.

Eventually, on Oct. 3, 2012, Shafranik went to Baghdad to try to clarify the situation with Maliki, the former Iraqi official said. Shafranik even offered Maliki a direct communication line with Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid confusion and leaks.

“The third of October, Yuri [Shafranik] came to Baghdad, met the prime minister and told him clearly that ‘Mr. Putin is suggesting direct relations between you and him to avoid any leakage and … cut any unhealthy things,’” the former Iraqi official said. “The prime minister welcomed that.”

Maliki assured the officials that he welcomed the suggestion to streamline their contacts and signaled that the confusion over who represented Baghdad in the arms deal would be resolved.

So the former Iraqi official was astonished when he accompanied Maliki to Moscow in October 2012 to sign the Russian arms deal to see Nader enter their hotel and take the elevator to Maliki’s suite.

“We were in a Radisson hotel in Moscow,” the former Iraqi official said. “And all of a sudden, George Nader came, walking very fast, entered the elevator, went up and, I saw from the screen over the elevator, went to the level where the prime minister was staying.

“When the minister of defense came down to the ground floor, I asked, did you notice George Nader? And he said yes; he saw him entering the prime minister’s suite,” the former Iraqi official said. “By that time I realized the issue is in-house. The corrupted party, which went to Moscow to represent Maliki, they are not … strange people. They are in the circle with Maliki.”

The former Iraqi official continued, “Also, while we were there we discovered new facts. I myself did not know that those people who traveled to Moscow at the end of August, that they are connected to Maliki and his son. But George Nader I knew very well. I was shocked. Then it immediately came to me — Nader’s relations with the son of Maliki.”

Over the course of the trip to Moscow, “we came to know that one of the three people who had been in Moscow presenting themselves as [Maliki’s] representative was George Nader,” the former Iraqi official said.

A call Wednesday by Al-Monitor to an attorney who represented Nader in an earlier case was not returned. A spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy said it did not have information on the matter.

The Iraqi-Russian arms deal was controversial in Iraq and long suspected to have involved corruption. In November 2012, just a month after it was signed, Iraq’s then-acting Defense Minister Dulaimi announced that the deal was canceled, “citing possible corruption in the contract,” Reuters reported.

But Maliki’s then-media adviser Ali al-Moussawi was cited by Reuters as saying that the deals would be renegotiated and any suspension of the contract was “a precautionary measure because of suspected corruption.”

From Iraq to the UAE

After the end of Maliki’s run as Iraq’s prime minister in 2014, Nader made his way to become an adviser to the Abu Dhabi crown prince. Until Trump’s election, however, he had maintained such a low profile that even several Washington consultants who have advised the Emirates said they were entirely unaware of his role.

It may now be left to Mueller to help deepen understanding of Nader’s mysterious activities and what role they may have played in influencing the Trump administration’s policies toward the Middle East.

The Iraqi government has denied concluding any deal with Russia to supply Baghdad with S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, but confirming Iraq’s right to import weaponry from any country in the world.

So far, Iraq has not concluded any deal with Russia to import the S-400 air defence system” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi stated on February 26.

Talk about this deal is only in the media.  This matter is not subject to political, but rather purely military and technical considerations” al-Hadithi said.

“The Iraqi Ministry of Defence is the only authority competent to supply [the army] with weapons and other military equipment needed by the armed forces. It is the only body that determines the nature, type, form and source of weapons Iraq needs”. 

(Source: GardaWorld)

(Picture credit: Соколрус)

By John Lee.

Iran is said to be negotiating a deal to import around 100,000 tonnes of wheat per month from Russia, enabling private millers it to increase flour exports to Iraq.

Iraq imports about 3 million tons of flour a year, almost half of its demand of 6.9 million tons a year.

According to a report from Reuters, private millers in Iran are not allowed to use domestic wheat for flour exports.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Iranian flour millers are operating at 50 percent of capacity.

(Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters)

Iraq has received the first batch of Russian-made T-90 battle tanks as part of a purchase agreement signed last year, according to an Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman.

“The first batch of Russian tanks arrived on February 15 at Umm Qasr Port – they have since been transported to Baghdad via the city of Basra”.

The delivery comes as part of a purchase agreement signed last year between Iraq and Russia for a total of 73 T-90s.

“The rest of the tanks will be delivered gradually,” the Defence Ministry source said, pointing out that the first batch of tanks would enter into service “in the coming days”.

(Source: GardaWorld)

By John Lee.

Oil Minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi [Allibi, Luiebi] has met with Kati Al-Juboori, the CEO of Russia’s Lukoil, and his entourage.

During the meeting the two parties discussed ways to develop the oil sector in Iraq.

Mr. Al-Juboori praised the keenness of the Ministry of Oil to cooperate with global companies and provide the appropriate work environment to execute the plans of the associated administrations of the oil fields.

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

By John Lee.

Russia’s Gazprom Neft has reportedly revised down its output plateau for the Badra oil field.

Denis Sugaipov, head of Gazprom Neft’s department of large projects, told Reuters that the consortium running the project has proposed setting the output plateau for the next few years at its current level of around 85,000 bpd, as the field is more geologically complex than previously thought.

This is half the level initially planned as a plateau to be reached in 2017.

The field is being developed by Gazprom (30%), KOGAS (22.5%), Petronas (15%), TPAO (7.5%), Iraqi state-owned Oil Exploration Company (25%).

According to Reuters, $4.0 billion has been invested in the plant so far, including $1 billion for a gas processing plant; another $2.5 billion is planned to be invested by 2030.

(Source: Reuters)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate (PCLD) has announced the five additional companies have been approved to bid for Iraq’s “borderline onshore & offshore exploration blocks & fields.”

The companies are listed as:

  • Dana Gas (UAE)
  • Dragon Oil (UAE)
  • Geo-Jade Petroleum (China)
  • Schlumberger (USA)
  • Zarubezhneft (Russia)

Eight companies had applied for approval.

The five successful companies will be eligible to compete along with the following companies which are qualified from previous licensing rounds:

The areas to be offered include the onshore exploration blocks of Khudher Al-Mai, Jebel Sanam (Jabal Sanam) and Umm-Qasr on the Kuwaiti border; the Sindbad, Huwaiza, Shihabi, Zurbatia and Naft Khana blocks on the Iranian border; and the offshore exploration blocks in the Iraqi regional waters of the Arab gulf.

The bidding process should commence in May, according to the following schedule:

(Source: Oil Ministry)

Russia’s Lukoil has signed contracts with the state-owned Iraqi Oil Exploration Company to carry out seismic surveys at the Eridu field in Block 10, and also at Block 10’s southern and central parts, previously not part of the survey.

The scope of appraisal works at Eridu field includes a 3D seismic survey of 983 square kilometers to update the extension of the field and its geological structure.

At Block 10, 2D seismic acquisition of the southern and central parts is planned to be accomplished over an area of 3,500 linear kilometers to ensure the mapping of targets for prospect drilling.

The approved geological exploration plan for Eridu field envisages the drilling of additional appraisal wells on a mid-term horizon.​

Block 10, covering 5,600 square kilometers, is located in the governorates of Dhi Qar and Muthanna, 120 kilometers west of Basra. The interests in the project are: Lukoil – 60% (operator), Inpex Corporation (Japan) – 40%.

The Iraqi party to the agreement is represented by the state-owned South Oil Company (SOC).

The drilling of the first exploration well, Eridu-1, in February of 2017 led to the discovery of a major oilfield. Preliminary data indicate it is the most significant discovery in Iraq for the past 20 years.

The drilling of the second and third wells confirmed the field’s earlier assumed geological model.Block 10, covering 5,600 square kilometers, is located in the governorates of Dhi Qar and Muthanna, 120 kilometers west of Basra.

(Source: Lukoil)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi Ministry of Oil has denied reports that Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak discussed Russian oil companies’ operations in Iraqi Kurdistan with the Iraqi prime minister or oil minister during his trip to Iraq.

Novak had been quoted as saying that Baghdad had no problems with Russian companies doing business with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Baghdad reasserted that while it welcomes foreign investment in the country, “oil is a sovereign resource and therefore all contracts … must be signed with the federal government and the Ministry of Oil.

(Sources: Reuters, Rudaw)