By Dow Jones Newswires
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh Monday said there are still some problems delaying the country's controversial draft hydrocarbons law.
"Statements by some (Iraqi) officials and news reports that the draft law has been finalized are baseless," said Saleh, who also heads the Oil and Gas Committee entrusted with drafting the law.
"The draft...hasn't been completed yet because there are certain pending problems," Saleh told the state-run al-Iraqyia channel television.
Iraq's Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani and other senior Iraqi officials have previously said the draft is complete and ready to be presented to the cabinet.
Outstanding issues, according to one official participating in drafting the law, include the proposal of a new federal petroleum council, headed by the prime minister or his deputy and the ministers of oil, planning and finance, which would have final say on contracts signed with oil companies. This is causing prolonged ructions with the Kurdistan Regional Government, which runs northern Iraq and wants control of oil resources in its territory and a share of revenue.
Saleh, himself a Kurd, declined to give details on pending issues delaying the law.
"We are very close to solutions...we still need additional debate and we need to complete these discussions," Saleh said, without giving a timeframe.
The hydrocarbon law is seen as a crucial basis for international oil companies to begin discussions on investing in the country's under-exploited and run-down oil sector, and to generate much-needed reconstruction revenues.
Iraqi oil experts and officials say the country could easily produce up to 6 million barrels a day, more than three times its current output.
However, the long delays in publishing the draft has led to speculation about its contents - in Davos Saturday, Iraq's Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi was moved to reject rumors the draft will guarantee the U.S. access to a share of Iraqi oil.
The committee drafting the law, which includes veteran oil expert and former oil minister Thamer al-Ghadhban, began more than five months ago.
-By Hassan Hafidh, contributing to Dow Jones Newswires; + 962 777 612 111; firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires 01-29-070631ET Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.