Iraq gov’t, Kurds resolve oil law row — officials

Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan regional authority have resolved disputes holding up a draft oil law aimed at equitably sharing the world’s third largest oil reserves, officials said on Thursday.The spokesman for the oil ministry in Baghdad, Asim Jihad, said the draft had been submitted to parliament, adding he expected lawmakers to begin debating it in the next few days.

Jihad declined to give details on the deal. An official in the Kurdish regional government confirmed an agreement had been reached, but did not elaborate.

The deal will be greeted with relief in Washington, which has been pressing Iraq’s leaders to speed up passage of key laws designed to spur national reconciliation and end sectarian violence between majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs.

“A deal has been reached and the draft has been delivered to parliament to be discussed … in the coming days. An agreement has been reached covering all disputes,” Jihad told Reuters.

The draft, crucial to regulating how wealth from Iraq’s huge reserves will be shared by its sectarian and ethnic groups, was approved by the Cabinet in February but faced stiff opposition from Kurds.

They had objected to some annexes in the draft that would wrest oil fields from regional governments and place them under a new state oil company. There was also a row over how revenue would be distributed.

Jihad declined to say when the agreement had been reached, adding parliament could make changes to the draft.

Most of Iraq’s proven oil reserves are located in the Shi’ite south and the Kurdish north.

Iraq sits on the world’s third-largest oil reserves and officials have been struggling since last year to finalise the draft law, which is vital for Iraq to attract investment from foreign firms to boost its oil output and rebuild its economy.

The latest disputes broke out not long after the oil ministry in Baghdad warned regions in late April against signing contracts until the law was passed. The Kurdistan regional government has signed several agreements with foreign companies.

Washington has dispatched a succession of officials to press Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Shiite-led government to speed up passage of laws aimed at drawing disaffected Sunni Arabs more firmly into the political process.

Besides the oil draft, these include changes to a law banning former Baath Party members from public life and constitutional reforms.

Thousands of extra US and Iraqi troops have been deployed in Baghdad in recent months in an operation whose success will be crucial to the US debate on how long to stay in Iraq. But US military commanders say improved security will not be enough, and that this has to be matched by political progress.

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