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BAGHDAD, Jan 27 AFP

January 28 2013, 08:14AM

The Iraqi oil minister has reiterated an ultimatum to US energy giant ExxonMobil: to choose between working in southern Iraq and a controversial exploration deal with the autonomous Kurdish region.

Abdelkarim al-Luaybi said there was no formal time-limit for the American firm to make a decision, but told reporters in Baghdad that he expected one within the coming days.

"The decision is now ExxonMobil's to choose," Luaybi said.

"Of course, it cannot go on with the two contracts. Thus, it must choose either to co-operate in the south of Iraq or in Kurdistan."

Luaybi's remarks came after Kurdish officials voiced confidence that Exxon would stick to the exploration deal it signed in October 2011 with the autonomous region in northern Iraq.

The contract angered Baghdad which regards deals signed by Iraqi Kurdistan to be illegal because they are not approved by the federal oil ministry.

Exxon and Anglo-Dutch giant Shell had completed a deal in January 2010 to develop production at West Qurna-1, an oilfield in southern Iraq.

But late last year, the US firm informed Baghdad that it wanted to sell its stake in the project, indicating it would focus on the controversial Kurdish deal.

The Exxon dispute is one of several between Baghdad and the Kurdish region -- the central government also regards other contracts signed by the Kurds to be illegal because they were not approved by the federal ministry.