The contracts do not allow investments by the foreign companies in the oil sector but do pave the way for global energy giants to return to Iraq, 36-years after being told to leave by Saddam Hussein, Iraq's former ruler.

Access

The move is also seen as a first step to access the third largest proven crude oil reserves on the planet.

Jihad said the selected companies will have the first right  to develop the fields once competitive bidding comes after the nation's long-delayed hydrocarbons law is passed by parliament.

Iraq wants to increase oil output by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the current average production of 2.5 million bpd, equal to the amount being pumped before the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Exports of 2.11 million bpd currently form the bulk of the war-torn nation's revenues.
 
The oil ministry is keen to raise capacity over the next five years to 4.5 million bpd.

Iraq's crude reserves are estimated at about 115 billion barrels.

However, Iraq's oil is lacking in infrastructure and the latest technology, because it was denied access under years of international sanctions after the 1991 Gulf War.