Iraqi Oil Bill Heads to Parliament

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 7:48 PM

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi Cabinet signed off Tuesday on a revised bill to regulate the country's oil industry and sent it to parliament _ a major step in reaching a long-delayed benchmark sought by the U.S. to promote reconciliation between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites.

Within hours of the announcement, however, the legislation hit a snag _ the Kurds said they had neither seen nor approved the final text and might oppose it.

American officials are hoping that passage of the oil bill and companion legislation to distribute oil revenues will help rally Sunni support for the government and reduce backing for the insurgents.

In the latest violence, a car bomb exploded late Tuesday at an outdoor market in the Shaab area of northeast Baghdad, killing 18 people and wounding 35, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information.

The market is in a Shiite neighborhood frequently target by Sunni bombers.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters his Cabinet had unanimously approved the oil draft and that the parliament would begin discussing it the following day. He called the bill "the most important law in Iraq."

The Cabinet endorsed one version of the legislation last February. But the Kurds protested that that measure was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to a yet-to-be-established national oil company in managing the country's oil fields.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh did not release the bill's final version.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Kurdistan Regional Government said it would reject the latest text if it made "material and substantive changes" to the outline agreed upon during weeks of protracted negotiations.

"We have not seen the final text of the law that the Iraqi Cabinet says it will put to parliament," the statement said. "We hope that the Cabinet is not approving a text with which the (Kurdish administration) disagrees because this would violate the constitutional rights of the Kurdistan region."

The Kurds control 53 of the 275 seats _ not enough to defeat the measure on its own but enough to stall approval.

Only 24 of the Cabinet's 37 members were present for the vote because of boycotts by ministers from the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front and the Shiite bloc local to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Both groups have separate political disputes with al-Maliki.

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