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Iraq signs deal with Russia's Bashneft-led consortium to search for oil in southern provinces

Iraq's Oil Ministry says it has finalized a deal with a consortium led by Russian oil giant Bashneft to search for oil in the country's south.

Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad says Bashneft and its UK partner Premier will explore the 8,000-square-kilometer (3,100-square-mile) Block 12 , shared by the provinces of Muthana and Najaf. They will be paid US$5 for each barrel of oil equivalent.

Thursday's signing ceremony took place at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad. The contract is one of four deals Iraq awarded in its latest bidding round to hunt for oil and gas.

Iraq, which sits atop of 143.1 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 126.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is seeking to develop its vast resources after decades of war, U.N. sanctions and neglect.