Iraqiyya and the Kurds Challenge Maliki on Oil and Gas

The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

It sounds perhaps more exciting than it is: The oil and gas committee of the Iraqi parliament has presented a rival oil and gas law to the version that has stalled in government since 2007.

The thing is, a superficial reading of the two documents in fact suggests that they are extremely similar – based on the same template, containing the same articles, and mostly also the same language. In fact, only one major difference stands out. In the parliament version of the bill, the president of the oil and gas council (which will make all key decisions) and his deputy are nominated by the parliamentary presidency and confirmed by parliament with an absolute majority, whereas in the government version, the prime minister or his representative is the president of the council. Other than that, the differences seem minor, though with the details of provincial representation on the oil and gas council slightly different (the government version gives the regional representative rank of minister and specifies that the producing-governorate representatives be elected by the governorate councils.)

The remaining features look similar. Just like the original bill introduced in 2007, the oil ministry is deprived of effective power which instead rests with the powerful oil and gas commission. The commission will have veto rights on deals entered into also by federal regions, though unless it manages to make a two-thirds decision on them, they will automatically become valid. Producing governorates are not given the same contracting rights as federal regions, which is a blunt violation of the constitution (which treats governorates and federal regions exactly in the same way as far as energy questions are concerned).

The reason the parliamentary version has got that much attention despite the minuscule differences relates instead to procedure: By doing what they do in this case, the oil and gas committee are challenging the government and the Iraqi federal supreme court on the rules for introducing bills to the Iraqi legislature. The court has previously established that a bill must pass through the government or the presidency before it is presented to parliament, meaning that the Iraqi national assembly has an impaired right of legislative initiative. Last time parliament tried to challenge the ministry in this way (through a law that severed the administrative ties between governorates and the municipality and public works ministries) it ended up with rejection by the federal supreme court and the law in question was subsequently annulled. In other words, the parliament version of the oil and gas bill could easily be struck down by the court on the same procedural grounds.

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