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Oil Law Stalls in Iraq as Bomb Aims at Sheiks
22/07/2007

BAGHDAD, July 22 — Efforts to achieve national reconciliation in Iraq received a double blow on Sunday.

Lawmakers acknowledged that there were still many differences on a proposed law to manage oil revenue, the country’s most lucrative resource, making it unlikely they would approve a law before September, when the Bush administration must report to Congress on Iraq’s progress toward meeting certain legislative benchmarks. The report is expected to have an impact on whether Congress continues to support the Iraq war.

In addition, a suicide truck bombing north of Baghdad was apparently aimed at a meeting of Sunni tribal sheiks who recently agreed to oppose extremists allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni Arab group with some foreign influence. Five people were killed in the attack and 12 wounded, Interior Ministry officials said. It was unclear whether any sheiks were victims.

The group of tribal sheiks, called the Awakening Council, is similar to a group of tribal sheiks known by the same name in Anbar Province that had turned against extremist Sunni Arabs on whose side they had fought in the past. Such attacks have become more frequent; one at the Mansour Hotel in Baghdad on June 25 killed four tribal sheiks from Anbar who were involved in a similar effort.

In Parliament, several lawmakers outlined aspects of the oil law on which lawmakers have yet to reach consensus. The law is one of a package of measures aimed at bringing together Iraqis from different sects and ethnicities by sharing political power and income. The lawmakers indicated that it would be difficult to complete work before Parliament left for its monthlong summer break at the beginning of August.

The oil law, which would set up a system for managing and developing Iraq’s oil resources and would have a companion revenue-sharing law that would apportion oil income among the various groups, had been considered the most likely to be passed before the September report to Congress. But by the time the Iraqis return to Parliament in September, it is highly unlikely that they could meet the midmonth deadline in the United States.

“The fact is that the political blocs haven’t reached an agreement,” said Ayad al-Samarrai, one of the leaders of Tawafiq, the largest of the Sunni Arab blocs in Parliament. “What the government is doing can be described as dodging — the governmental bodies have not agreed among themselves,” he said, referring to differences within the Iraqi leadership, which includes Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, about aspects of the law.

However, there is a growing sense among a number of Iraqi leaders that all of the measures that constitute reconciliation should be handled as a package so that tradeoffs can be made among the political groups. “The Kurds want to approve a certain group of laws, like a national revenue-sharing law” and other provisions, said Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite member of Parliament.

The Sunni Arabs are also interested in addressing the laws as a package, Mr. Samarrai said. “Today we made a suggestion to invite the political blocs to discuss this with the presidency,” he said. They would discuss several laws as a political package and make a deal on all of them once. They include the oil and revenue sharing measure, a new “de-Baathification” law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party, which was dominated by Sunni Arabs, and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments so that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds would be equitably represented.

In recent weeks Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker has sought to play down the importance of completing benchmark legislation by September and has asked Congress instead to keep its eye on overall trends by Iraqi political leaders in their efforts to reach agreements.

“As I look at the legislative benchmarks, hydrocarbons and reconciliation, they are important, but my goodness they are very complicated,” he said in an interview two weeks ago. “And, frankly I’m just not sure that it’s reasonable to expect they are going to bang these things out in a relatively short time frame. We’ve had a few difficulties of our own with things like health care, Social Security, immigration reform.”

“These are arguably of the complexity of those and may exceed them in the case of de-Baathification,” he said.

The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said Sunday that an anticipated new round of talks between the United States and Iran focusing on the security situation would be held Tuesday in Baghdad, news agencies reported.

Violent attacks on Iraqis working for the United States government and its contractors have prompted the American Embassy in Baghdad to make a strong effort to find a way to help those people immigrate to the United States.

As first reported in The Washington Post, Mr. Crocker has pressed the State Department to work on a legislative solution to the problem as well as to expand some regulations to make it easier for people to immigrate.

“The overriding effort is to be sure there’s a way to accommodate anybody who wants to immigrate,” said a Western diplomat in Baghdad, speaking on the customary diplomatic condition of anonymity.

Various programs technically allow Iraqis to enter the United States. It is possible to obtain refugee status, but that can take several years. A special immigrant visa program is available to people who work for the United States; broadening that measure is under consideration.

Many Iraqis who currently work for the U.S. government in Iraq are expected to want to move to the United States with their families because they have a credible fear of persecution, especially if the United States were to reduce its presence in Iraq.

In Baghdad, 16 bodies were found Sunday, Interior Ministry officials said. In Babil Province, southwest of Baghdad, the police said they found five bodies in the northern area of the province, where there has been fighting between Sunni Arab extremists and Shiite militias.

In Kut, a mostly Shiite city southeast of Baghdad, a translator who worked for the American military was shot to death, and a local policeman was killed in a separate attack.

Wisam A. Habeeb and Sahar Najeeb contributed reporting.


Oil Law Stalls in Iraq as Bomb Aims at Sheiks -  Source


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