French oil firm Total is close to securing exploration rights over several oil-and-gas blocks in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Sunday Times reported.

The paper said a deal could be announced within weeks, although it also cited sources close to the situation as saying that the deal could still fall apart.

Industry sources told Reuters that Total had been visiting the region ahead of a possible entry.

Total could not immediately be reached for comment.

Many big Western oil companies have been mulling an entry into Kurdistan, either by buying existing players in the region, many of whom are small independents, or by purchasing new licensing blocks.

The Exxon Mobil Corp., the first oil major to move into Kurdistan, is quietly mobilizing in Arbil, in the heart of the region, Reuters reported last week

The Exxon Mobil deal has been criticized by the Baghdad central government, which has challenged the regional government's right to issue licences.