BAGHDAD – Thamir Ghadhban is expected to be nominated as Iraq’s next oil minister on Wednesday, as Prime Minister-designate Adil Abd al-Mahdi begins fleshing out his new government.
At the time of publication, as MPs file into Parliament for Abd al-Mahdi to present his Cabinet, several officials close to the process said Ghadhban is the nominee for oil minister. Multiple lists being circulated all also had Ghadhban named for the post.
A respected technocrat with decades of industry experience, Ghadhban previously ran the Oil Ministry twice, in 2003 and 2004-2005, helping the oil sector regain its footing after the U.S.-led invasion.
If confirmed by Parliament, Ghadhban will oversee a ministry in a time of rapid growth, dynamic challenges, and uncertain transition.
Iraq’s oil production and exports have hit record levels in recent months, as the ministry opens the taps at state-run fields and long-term development contracts continue to bring increasing production from the country’s largest fields.
That opportunity also creates a massive set of challenges. Not only must the new minister navigate the diplomatic complexities of OPEC, but he also needs to build billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure – export outlets, pipelines, storage, and water injection – to capitalize on further production gains.
At the same time, Iraq’s oil sector is embarking on a seismic, organizational realignment.
The previous government, led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has taken the first steps to form a new iteration of the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), in accordance with a new law that transfers many of the Oil Ministry’s oil sector operations to the new state-run company.
Many Iraqi technocrats, including Ghadhban, have previously supported the idea of resurrecting INOC as a way of improving the management of the oil sector and insulating it from the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics. But it remains to be seen exactly what authorities the new company will take, and what its relationship will be to the Oil Ministry.
The previous Cabinet appointed outgoing Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luiebi to serve as the first head of INOC. As a Cabinet-level position, however, the INOC presidency requires confirmation by the Parliament – and it is presently unclear whether Luiebi’s appointment will be put to a vote, or whether he has Abd al-Mahdi’s support.
Ghadhban has a variety of experiences to draw on, in both the political arena and the oil sector, as he faces these challenges.
Following his tenure as oil minister, Ghadhban served on a strategic advisory council to then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In that capacity, he spearheaded the Iraq National Energy Strategy, which laid out a multi-decade vision for the oil and gas sector.
He also has decades of operational experience in Iraq’s oil industry. His career began in 1973, when he worked as a petroleum and reservoir engineer; Ghadhban subsequently held multiple director general and advisory roles in the ministry.
After the U.S.-led invasion, he worked closely with American advisors but was adamant about guarding Iraq’s oil reserves from foreign control.