NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) -Followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Thursday joined a growing chorus of Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite opposition to a draft oil law approved by Iraq’s cabinet and backed by Washington.
Sadr’s supporters said they would not support any law that would allow firms “whose governments are occupying Iraq” — a reference to the United States, Britain and their coalition allies — to sign Iraqi oil deals.
“We reject this unclear law that contains a number of points which prevent us from accepting it,” said Sheikh Salah al-Obaidi, a Sadr office spokesman in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf.
“This law has no grounding in Iraqi reality,” he added.
The nationalist Shiite movement particularly objects to the bill’s provision for production-sharing agreements with foreign oil firms designed to bring investment into Iraq’s oil sector, according to one senior member.
“The most serious problem with the law is the production-sharing agreements, which we categorically reject,” Nassar al-Rubaie, the spokesman for Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, said.
Such agreements, which provide for foreign oil companies to share investment and profits with the state, would “undermine Iraq’s sovereignty in the short run and will strip it of its sovereignty in the long run”, he added.
Speaking for the 32-member bloc that is currently boycotting parliament, Rubaie insisted the movement would only approve the law with an amendment to ban oil contracts with “companies whose governments are occupying Iraq”.
The draft law, which Washington considers a “benchmark” of political progress in the war-torn country, was drawn up in February but remains a point of contention among Iraq’s feuding ethnic, political and religious groups.
The law, which has yet to be debated in parliament, aims to distribute revenues from crude oil exports equitably across 18 provinces and open the sector to foreign investors.
On Wednesday, Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni leaders expressed similar concerns, complaining that they had not seen the final bill as approved by the cabinet, which is currently being boycotted by some Sunni ministers.
Oil exports are Iraq’s single most important source of revenue, even after more than four years of frequent insurgent attacks on oil facilities —
Its proven oil reserves, estimated at 115 billion barrels, are thought to be the third largest in the world, but since the US-led invasion in 2003 production has tumbled from 3.5 million barrels per day to around two million.