The U.S. government is looking to sell at least $15 billion of its shares in American International Group Inc. in the first of several stock offerings to investors starting in early 2011, according to people familiar with the matter.

The insurer could also sell $2 billion to $3 billion in new shares alongside the government, which would bring the size of a stock offering to at least $17 billion, the people added.

AIG Chief Executive Officer Robert Benmosche had previously mapped out the expected timing of AIG’s first stock sale to investors since 2008, and said AIG planned to issue a small amount of shares, too. But it wasn’t clear how much the company would try to sell out of the gate.

The government’s and AIG’s shares may be sold at less than $40 apiece, because AIG’s current share price of $43.59 includes the value of warrants that will be given to existing private shareholders before the stock sales next year.

A $15 billion sale would represent more than 20% of the government’s stake, based on current market prices. The actual size of the first offering will depend on investor demand, which will be gauged in the coming weeks as AIG kicks off road shows to prepare for the share sales, the people said.

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