BAGHDAD (AFP) — Dozens of Iraqis protested in central Baghdad on Saturday against the expected debate in parliament later this month of a draft oil law Washington deems a cornerstone of reconciliation efforts.
The demonstration was called by left-wing groups opposed to moves to open up Iraq's oil and gas sector to Western firms in the same bill that aims to reassure Sunnis that earnings will be fairly shared among the country's divided communities.
Protest organisers used microphones to denounce the draft law, which has already been approved by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet, saying it should not be passed while the United States is still calling the shots.
"The occupier is trying to impose this law by pressurising the weak Maliki government which rapidly endorsed the law and sent it to the so-called House of Deputies for endorsement," trade union leader Subhi al-Badri told AFP.
"The occupier has interfered and even demanded that deputies shorten their leave in order to endorse such a vital law which is the main reason behind the occupation," he added.
Parliament reconvenes for the debate next week after a month's summer holiday but Washington had opposed MPs even taking that recess.
"This very law aims at stealing the wealth of Iraq," Badri said.
"We will work to bring down the law with the support of five million Iraqi workers and our response will be halting oil exports and dismissing foreign companies from Iraq, including those which have started work."
Norway's DNO, Turkish group Petoil and the Canadian company Western Oil Sands have already signed production-sharing contracts with the autonomous Kurdish regional government in the north.
Communist party official Rashid Ismail said consideration of a bill so important to Iraq's economic future should be delayed until security has been restored.
"We reject the law because it has been drawn up under the tragic circumstances the country is experiencing," he said.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and more than four million fled their homes since US-led forces invaded in 2003.
The draft oil and gas law provides for earnings to be shared equally between Iraq's 18 provinces in a bid to allay Sunni fears they will be monopolised by Kurdish and Shiite provinces which contain the oilfields.
But it also opens up Iraq's long state-controlled hydrocarbons sector to foreign involvement.