Sunday, June 24, 2007
(06-24) 04:00 PDT Baghdad -- Iraq's parliament agreed Saturday to cut its summer holiday in half, and some observers said a deal had been reached on a law to share the country's oil wealth.
Both legislative developments were small signs that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was creeping toward meeting White House demands to show political progress and stem sectarian violence that continues to claim Iraqi and U.S. lives.
Before the vote to extend its session, the parliament was scheduled to recess for July and August. Iraqi lawmakers denied that the decision to continue working through the end of July was due to American pressure and said they were trying to make progress on legislation. But some U.S. leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have visited Iraq recently to tell lawmakers they should not recess while the United States was in the midst of its troop buildup.
Although the apparent agreement on oil revenue sharing is the first sign of tangible progress in months, Iraqis have announced agreements before, only to see legislation stall. So there were no guarantees the deals struck Saturday will result in concrete measures.
In hopes of easing violence, U.S. officials had been pushing for the Iraqi parliament to pass an oil revenue-sharing law, set a date for new provincial elections, agree on constitutional reforms and approve legislation easing government-employment and benefits restrictions on members of the ousted Baath regime.
The oil law is the only goal that has appeared achievable, although it has yet to be introduced in parliament. Some Kurdish and Shiite Muslim members of parliament said Saturday they had reached agreement over how to divide the oil revenue.
"The (Shiite) United Iraqi Alliance together with the Kurds have agreed to this law," said Wail Abdul Lateef, a Cabinet member who is part of the secular political coalition headed by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "This law is very important for Iraq, which is living under enormous poverty even though its citizens are living over a gold lake."
The Kurdish and Shiite blocs control about 80 percent of parliament. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament, said there are several outstanding issues under debate in the oil legislation, including the power of a state-run oil company. But he has said that the Kurdistan regional government had agreed to take 17 percent of the oil wealth.
U.S. officials remain cautiously optimistic that the oil law will pass this summer.
Approving the law would show that the central government can function and provide an important first agreement for the sects and regions to divide and share the country's wealth, a U.S. embassy official said last week.