Iraqi lawmakers argue for caution in shaping oil law
They say that draft law has many holes, and that foreign pressure only draws ire.
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In its current form the law is ambiguous, many say, leaves too many gaping holes to fill at some later date, and fails to clearly delineate the rights and responsibilities of the central government and those of regional governments.Skip to next paragraph
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Then there are the ideological and sectarian misgivings. Many Sunnis – who feel vulnerable as a minority and come from a tradition of strong central government – oppose the legislation as a doorway to Iraq's dismemberment. Sunnis generally want a new Iraq National Oil Co. to be a strong federal power.
Many Kurds, meanwhile, are furious that annexes to the law would, in their view, give jurisdiction over a vast majority of oil fields to a centralized authority, with only a pittance left to regional governments like that in the Kurdish north. Some nationalists and the oil workers' union in particular tar the law as a privatization of the Iraqi people's common wealth.
Ambassador Crocker, speaking with a group of Western journalists Thursday, said sorting out such defining issues among "all of Iraq's communities ... is in its own way as important as some of these national issues we've been focused on."
The draft law could probably pass if put to a vote now, some analysts say, but its gaps and vague wording on key issues like contract-signing authority could mean big problems later and discourage essential foreign investment.
"This is an issue of great importance for every Iraqi, not just 51 percent of Iraqis, so it is important that this law be written to have the support of a wide majority," says Tariq Shafiq, a prominent Iraqi oil expert who served on a committee that wrote the oil law draft last year. "Given the present wounds in Iraq, it would not be wise to rush to something with potential to cause more difficulties later."
Mr. Shafiq says the committee he served on tried to "make the best" of often-conflicting political demands, but adds that subsequent revisions to their draft have weakened the law and made it more confusing.
The changes, he says, have added layers to the contract process and regional involvement that invite trouble. "The longer the chain of decisionmaking, particularly in areas that don't have the institutions equipped to do this, corruption becomes a bigger problem," he says.
Other issues include the division of oilfields between the Iraq National Oil Co. and regional governments, and the makeup of a national oil and gas council that would include foreign participation.
The Kurdish regional government was shocked when the central government divulged a list of operating oilfields last month that assigned more than 90 percent of them to national jurisdiction. The region's governor, Mustafa Barzani, is to visit Baghdad next week, giving Kurdish lawmakers hope that disputes can be resolved.
"Two issues remain of the highest importance to the Kurdish side: how the oil revenues will be shared and how new investment agreements will be signed with foreign companies," says Fryad Rwandzi, a Kurdish member of parliament. "The Kurdish delegation will address that ... and if the results are satisfactory, we could have passage ... soon," perhaps by mid-June.
But other lawmakers insist it will take more time – in part because the months of debate and media attention have exposed the law's shortcomings and provided fodder for opposition from all sides.
Abdel Hadi al-Hassani, a Shiite member of parliament from a branch of Mr. Maliki's Dawa Party, says that proposed "production-sharing agreements" with foreign oil firms are so tarnished that they will have to be changed.
"Like the US Congress, we wish this could all be done yesterday, but given what remains to be done it will take at least four months," says Mr. Hassani. "We appreciate any congressman trying to help, but they have to understand that we are thinking about the interests of Iraq for the long period of time."