Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki believes a contract between US oil giant ExxonMobil and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region is dangerous and could lead to "wars," his spokesman told AFP on Tuesday.
ExxonMobil signed an oil exploration deal with the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq covering six areas, including two that are said to be outside the region and claimed by both Baghdad and Kurdistan.
The central government says all oil contracts must go through Baghdad and regards any that do not as illegal.
"Maliki views these deals as representing a very dangerous initiative that may lead to the outbreak of wars" and "breaking up the unity of Iraq," Ali Mussawi said of the Kurdistan deal.
"Maliki is prepared to go to the highest levels for the sake of preserving the national wealth and the necessary transparency in investing the wealth of the Iraqis, especially oil," Mussawi said.
The premier "sent a message to American President Barak Obama last week urging him to intervene to prevent ExxonMobil from going in this direction."
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Maliki's remarks came after Atheel al-Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province where disputed areas covered in the contract are located, said it must be a part of any deal and had the same rights as Kurdistan when it comes to contracts.
"We must be part of this agreement," Nujaifi said in an interview with Iraq Oil Report, an online news outlet focused on the country's oil, politics and security.
Nujafi also said in the interview that he had met with Exxon representatives.
Asked if he believed local governments could sign contracts, he said: "I believe we have the same authority that the (Kurdistan regional government) has. In the constitution, there is no difference between the provinces and the regions."
Iraqi Kurdistan has been locked in a standoff with Baghdad for months, one of a series of intertwined political crises which have escalated into calls for Maliki to be removed from power.
The region refused to hand over fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to Baghdad for trial after he fled to the region in December, and then permitted him to leave on a regional tour that has taken him to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The region's president, Massud Barzani, launched a series of attacks against Maliki, while the region has stopped oil exports over more than $1.5 billion it said is owed to foreign oil companies working in the region, that Baghdad has allegedly withheld.
And Barzani's chief of staff Fuad Hussein said last month that "Maliki must change his policy or he will be replaced."