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Daily Column
Iraqi Papers Thur: Cabinet Passes Oil Law
Oil Law Draft Expected to Face Stiff Opposition in the Parliament
By AMER MOHSEN 07/05/2007 01:57 AM ET
Under less-than-ideal circumstances, the Iraqi government approved the controversial oil and gas law in the cabinet. The new law still requires parliamentary approval to be promulgated, and a stiff battle is expected to occur on the floor of the parliament regarding the draft of the law, which still faces rigid opposition from major political groupings.

Pan-Arab al-Hayat reported that the law was approved with the absence of 13 ministers (out of 37) since the Sadrists, as well as the representatives of the Sunni “Accord” front are boycotting the government. However, the government spokesman 'Ali al-Dabbagh argued that the process was “legal and constitutional” since the cabinet requires the presence of half the ministers for the quorum to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the absence of the Sunni ministers from the decision process will, no doubt, shed substantial doubts over the “political legitimacy” of the strategic law.

Al-Hayat also confirmed that the updated version of the law allocates 17% of all energy proceeds in Iraq to the Kurdish regional government, in what the paper described as “a first towards the application of federalism.” The Kurdish share, the paper added, is expected to total around 4 billion $ under current production levels, and will rise with the augmentation of Iraqi oil production and exports.

The Sunni “Accord” front was quick to voice its opposition to the law draft. The front’s spokesman Saleem 'Abdallah announced that the passing of the law despite the absence of the Sunni and Sadrist ministers was “a form of political exploitation,” adding that the last word will be for the parliament, and that his coalition will never vote for the law under its current form.

The Sadr Current is yet to adopt a unified position regarding the draft, while Sadrist leader Nassar al-Rubai'i announced his bloc’s opposition to the law “since it threatens the unity of Iraq,” a Sadr parliamentarian, Salih al-'Akili said that the Current has not seen the new amended version of the law, and that the party will hold a meeting to discuss the law and announce its final position.

The most radical posture, however, came from the anti-government “Association of Muslim Scholars,” which rejects the political process under the occupation and considers the current government to be a collaborationist one. According to al-'Arabiya, the Association has promulgated a religious ruling banning Moslems from approving the law in the government or the parliament. The Association of Muslim Scholars opined that the law is “a deal struck between politicians and the occupiers to squander the most important national asset for Iraqis.”

The biggest surprise came from the Kurdish side; while the new draft was specifically amended to satisfy Kurdish demands, since the Kurdistan Alliance had rejected an earlier version of the law in February, Kurdish politicians announced that they may still have issues with last-minute amendments to the draft.

According to al-Hayat, the American president had held a video conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Tariq al-Hashimi (the Sunni vice-President) and “urged” the two men to facilitate the passing of the law. The US president also “pressured” al-Maliki and Kurdish and Sunni parties to pass the law, the paper claimed.

The new law will allow Iraqi provinces a large measure of control over the oil fields within their territories, but will distribute oil revenues proportionately among Iraqi regions. The law will also found a federal commission composed of members from the central government, the Kurdistan government and non-Iraqi experts to manage the oil proceeds.

While the government is betting on the deputies of the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance to secure a majority of the parliament’s votes in favor of the law, the draft may face difficulties acceding to the parliament in the first place. According to Az-Zaman and al-Hayat, parliamentary sessions have been impossible to hold recently due to lack of quorum. With the Sunni Accord and Dialogue fronts boycotting the parliament, in addition to the Sadrist Current, and the presence of many deputies outside Iraq, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gather the minimum number of parliamentarians required to hold legislative sessions.


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