When Iraq’s Oil Ministry opened its doors to international oil companies on 11 December for the country’s second licensing round since the US-led invasion in 2003, the backdrop in Baghdad could hardly have been worse.

Just three days beforehand, a series of bombs had exploded in the city, killing 112 people in one of the deadliest attacks in months.

It was a stark reminder to government -officials and prospective international -investors that security and political factors – largely out of their control – will go a long way towards determining the success or otherwise of bids for the 10 untapped oil fields.

“Factions have been reluctant to approve deals in case they are accused of selling the country’s oil on the cheap”

Baghdad has boasted that its two licensing rounds could result in crude production climbing to more than 7 million barrels a day (b/d) by 2015 from just 2.5 million b/d today. Yet, privately, ministry officials concede that doubling production to 5 million b/d by 2015 is more realistic.

In the continued absence of a national oil law, international oil companies have been understandably nervous about whether their preliminary agreements with Baghdad will still hold weight if the -administration changes. Iraqi lawmakers have set 7 March as the date for the general election, so the world’s largest energy -companies may soon find out whether their agreements to develop Iraq’s oil fields can survive a change of -the country’s government.

Factions within the government have been reluctant to approve pending deals for two of the country’s largest oil fields – Zubair and West Qurna – in case they are accused of selling the country’s oil on the cheap ahead of an election. With only one oil field deal approved so far this year – to the UK’s BP – whoever wins the election needs to move quickly to rehabilitate the country’s oil industry.