By John Lee.
The provincial council of Nineveh has reportedly granted its governor the power to sign deals with foreign oil firms independently of Baghdad, which rejected the move as unconstitutional.
a predominantly Sunni Muslim governorate in Iraq's northwest, is following the example of the autonomous Kurdistan region, which has pursued an increasingly independent energy policy in recent years.
Governor Atheel Nujaifi (pictured) told Reuters:
"Taking the constitution as a starting point, we are in the process of setting laws and regulations to organise the work of oil companies to invest in Nineveh province."
He confirmed that several oil companies, including majors, had already been in contact to discuss investment opportunities, but said no concrete negotiations were under way.
A senior government official said:
"The government will not tolerate such a decision, whether from Nineveh or any other province. Iraq's energy resources are a red line and we advise Nineveh council not to cross it.
"All options are open for the government to contest this decision, including taking it to the federal court to nullify it for breaching the constitution."