Iraq's oil minister Abdelkarim Luaybi
A controversial oil and gas bill may soon pass in Iraq, despite the outcry of many parliamentarians that the bill is unconstitutional and transfers too much power to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. © Ahmad al-Rubaye - AFP/File
Iraq's oil minister Abdelkarim Luaybi
Sarah Price and Nizar Latif
Last updated: December 13, 2012

Iraqi oil and gas bill to pass despite protests

A controversial oil and gas bill may soon pass in Iraq, despite the outcry of many parliamentarians that the bill is unconstitutional and transfers too much power to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Mouaid Tyib, a MP from the Kurdistan alliance, rejects the current draft of the bill. His objection is partly because there is no consensus yet between the political parties, but mainly because he feels it only really benefits Maliki.

“The power granted to the prime minister in this bill undermines the future of Iraq,” he says. “It's not in Iraq's best interest. There must be a compromise that satisfies all the political parties, or it won't pass.”

He says that Kurdistan supports a version of the bill in which the management of the oil reserves would be shared between the Kurdish region and the provinces, but that the current draft gives power to the oil ministry. According to Tyib, this is a violation of the constitution, which states that there must be partnership between the government and the regions.

“Also, article 5 of the draft transfers powers that belong to the Supreme Council for Oil and Gas to the prime minister and his deputy, Hussein al-Shahristani,” he says, “which, in itself, is scary.”

In a press statement, Iraqiya list spokesperson Maysoon al-Damluji said they would also not be voting for the bill.

“Our list does not intend to vote for the current draft of the law in parliament,” she says, “because it gives power to the prime minister, equal to the powers granted during the rule of the former Ba'athist regime in Iraq.”

But Saadoun Obeiad al-Shaalan, vice president of the provincial council in Anbar, says that in addition to this draft being a case of an unconstitutional power shift to Maliki, it is also an attempt to cut Sunnis out of any say in the oil dealings. As Anbar is rich in oil reserves, he sees the dismissal of input as particularly suspect, especially as the provincial council had not even seen the draft before it was passed through the Council of Ministers. He adds that the decision by Baghdad not to explore Anbar's oil fields also seems like a maneuver to keep them out of the discussion.

“The government is trying to deprive us of the federal council to participate in oil issues, by not exploring our fields,” he says. “As a result, our province doesn't produce oil, and therefore, we are not included in the considerations of the petro-dollar system.”

Anbar province is believed to have a potential of 100 billion barrels of oil. Approval of the exploitation of these fields would not only make Anbar the dominant source of oil in Iraq, it would put it in the top tier of crude resources in the world, with a market value around $6 trillion. 

But despite overwhelming protest, al-Maliki list MP Ibrahim al-Rikabi says his bloc will go forward to approve it in parliament soon, and denies allegations that it gives undue power to the prime minister.

“The oil and gas law has been submitted to the parliament and it likely will undergo some amendments by specialists and consultants in the oil industry,” he says. “But the decisions are not made by one person, like Maliki.  I was perplexed by the decision of some of the blocs not to pass the law. This law is the demand of the Iraqi people.”

A delegation representing Maliki recently met with Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani to discuss contentious issues in the bill, but al-Rikabi says they nevertheless intend to combine the three drafts of the law that have been written, and pass it as soon as possible.

“The oil and gas law has been enacted by specialists, experts and consultants in the field of oil, according to the limits of the constitution,” he says. “It does not regard one political bloc over the others; it is divided for each of the Iraqi people.”

By law, the ownership of the country's oil and gas is shared by all Iraqi citizens. Oil revenues make up approximately 95% of Iraq's budget, but the bill regulating the country's oil dealings has failed to pass since its introduction in 2007.

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