AMMAN (Dow Jones)--Prominent Iraqi parliamentarians, politicians,
ex-ministers and oil technocrats urged the Baghdad parliament to
reject Iraq's controversial hydrocarbon law, fearing that the new
legislation would further divide the country already witnessing civil
Politicians and former Iraqi ministers, oil technocrats, who have
already fled the country's chaos but continue to hold some influence
on Baghdad's politics and oil industry, met in a Amman hotel, Friday
night to discuss the draft oil and gas law.
The Iraqi cabinet endorsed the proposed law Feb. 27. To become law the
draft needs to be approved by the country's parliament, which is
likely to debate it later this month.
The influential Association of Muslim' Scholars, a Sunni body, was
also represented in the one-day conference held by an Iraqi
think-tank, called the Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies.
"We call on members of the parliament to reject this law," Mohammed
Bashar al-Faidhi, spokesman of the association, told Dow Jones
"This critical draft law would revive foreign companies' control on
Iraqi oil wealth that Iraq had gotten rid of years ago," Faidhi said.
The nationalization of the oil industry in the early 1970s under
Saddam Hussein was a hugely popular move, and many Iraqis worry about
foreigners exploiting their fields.
Saleh al-Mutlak, head of the National Dialogue, a Sunni party
represented in the Iraqi parliament, echoed Faidhi's remarks.
"Iraqis are suspicious that if the law is passed at this critical time
that Iraq is passing through, they would think it would be passed in
order to serve the interest of foreign companies," he said.
"This law would also further divide the Iraqi people because most of
them would oppose it," Mutlak told Dow Jones Newswires on the sideline
of the conference which was attended by parliamentarians representing
three blocs at the Iraqi parliament.
Issam al-Chalabi, former Iraqi oil minister during the government of
Saddam Hussein, and a veteran Iraqi oil expert, criticized the draft
oil law, saying prominent Iraqi oil experts weren't allowed to take
part in discussions of the legislation and that it wasn't published in
the media in order that the Iraqi people could see it.
"We are with issuing a hydrocarbon law that would regulate Iraq's oil
industry, but enough time should be given to draft the law before
submitting it to the parliament for approval," he said.
Malik Dohan al-Hassan, the Iraqi Justice Minister during former prime
minister Ayad Allawi's cabinet, a post-war government, praised some
provisions of the law and criticized others. He said the law has
called for distributing Iraq oil and gas revenues evenly among Iraqis,
and it has given a federal oil and gas council the authority to
approve oil contracts with foreign companies. But the law has some
setbacks, namely it is being legislated at a time when Iraq is passing
through very bad security situation, he said.
The trade minister during Allawi's cabinet, Mohammed al-Jobouri, who
had also headed the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization, or SOMO,
for sometime after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003, said, "Iraq
needs a hydrocarbon law, but the timing of the law isn't suitable.
There are some loops in the law that needs more discussions."
He also said that some provisions of the law are still ambiguous.
Details of the draft are tricky. Revenues from current oil fields are
to be shared according to population. Yet no recent census has been
taken. The Kurdish region in the north and the provinces which produce
more than 150,000 barrels a day can sign initial oil contracts, but
these must be reviewed by an independent federal oil and gas council,
not yet appointed. There is also concern among the Iraqi people that
foreign oil companies might try to get better terms by playing the
provinces against one another.
Other parties represented in the meeting was Allawi's Iraqi List, a
secular party which consists of Sunni and Shiite members of
parliaments and the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni bloc headed by
Neither the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in the
parliament, nor the Kurdish Coalition is represented in the
conference. The two blocs are said to be pressing for approving the
law. Most of the members of the current Iraqi government headed by
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, are from the Shiite Alliance.
The law, if passed, is expected to open the country's billions of
barrels of proven oil reserves, the world's third largest, to foreign
investors. Iraq's oil remains crucial to a world highly dependent on
petroleum and its byproducts. Iraq has proven oil reserves of 115
billion barrels and, according to Iraqi oil ministry's figures another
214 billion to 240 billion barrels not yet proven.
In the latest draft copy of the law, seen by Dow Jones Newswires, the
law lists 51 oil fields in various parts of Iraq that are ready for
development, and 65 exploration blocks.