February 25, 2007

Kurds Support Oil Revenue Sharing Plan

The Kurds have signed off on a plan to share oil revenues that will address many of the Sunni economic concerns that have driven some to extremism. The political breakthrough may help de-escalate the internal conflict in Iraq and allow the Sunnis to feel that they can participate in the representative government without losing everything:

Leaders of Iraq's oil-rich Kurdish region have apparently approved a draft oil law that will be presented to Iraqi lawmakers in coming weeks, an eagerly awaited breakthrough that is expected to professionalize and expand drilling in the country.

The agreement was announced Saturday by Massoud Barzani, president of the regional government in Kurdish-populated northern Iraq, during a news conference in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah attended by Iraq's president and the U.S. ambassador, the Associated Press reported. ...

Iraqi officials in recent weeks have been struggling to reach an agreement on legislation that would govern the exploitation of the country's vast oil reserves and who should control the revenue.

Among the contentious issues are to what extent oil exploration will be controlled by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad; how proceeds will be distributed among oil-rich and oil-poor areas; and to what extent foreign companies will be allowed to drill for oil.

The draft has not been released to the public yet, so the details are murky. However, in the past these plans have attempted to pool some percentage of the revenues from both the Kurdish north and the Shi'ite south in order to give the Sunnis a substantial taste. The Sunnis need to accept the security of those revenues over the long term, and so the plans have complex formulations that create opportunities for dissent and failure.

It appears, at least from the Kurdish side, that this new structure will meet their requirements. Nouri al-Maliki already supports it; he's been trying since late last year to get it ratified. The Sunnis have not publicly commented on the draft yet, but it had been thought that the Kurds presented the last obstacle.

If this gets passed and implemented quickly, it has the potential to take the wind out of the Sunni insurgencies, especially if the US/Iraqi "surge" succeeds in dialing down the violence in Baghdad. It could add to the breathing room needed for the Iraqi government to take control over the capital and the Sunni areas of its nation. Let's hope the Iraqi National Assembly senses the urgency and immediately move this proposal into law.


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