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Damien McElroy Acre, Iraq
September 9, 2008

CHINA has secured Iraq's first post-Saddam oil deal by reviving a 1997 concession to exploit reserves on the al-Ahdab field south of the capital, Baghdad.

The two countries are expected to sign an agreement later this month that will earn the state-controlled China National Petroleum Corporation a fixed price for every barrel it produces in Iraq.

While China opposed the Iraq war and stood back from post-conflict rebuilding, Beijing has outflanked its global rivals to grab a slice of Iraq's oil industry.

The pioneers of its overseas quest for fuel are already exploring vast tracts in the country's Kurdish north.

With an extensive foothold in the only part of the country where new oil wells have been built since 2003, Chinese firms are believed to have more personnel than their US rivals.

America has contested every step of China's drive over a decade to expand its oil industry in central Asia and Africa.

Beijing's success in the new battleground represents a double blow for Washington, whose troops are still engaged in fighting for Iraq's security.

As stability improves, Baghdad hopes its output can triple to 6 million barrels a day.

The latest Chinese outpost is a mountain camp pitched 1400 metres above sea level by the China National Petroleum Corporation, which has signed a contract to explore a 70-by-19-kilometre tract.

The sensitivity of the Chinese presence is betrayed by the camp's heavy fortifications. Scientists in the 100-strong team leave only to conduct surveys in heavily armed convoys.

The site's chief geologist, Chao Shu-he, said: "The Chinese have opened the door to co-operation. China is more and more developed and it's our patriotic duty to contribute to development, even if we are far from home."

Oil executives complain that China is the only big country that is prepared to work in Iraq.
 

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All I can say to them is, good luck with the insurgents blowing up the pipelines. Maybe a bunch of Chinese contractors can take the risk at keeping them safe.
 

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We should bill china for "security" costs.
 
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