Friday, June 27, 2008

Iraqi MPs stall deals on Bush benchmarks


· Provincial elections likely to be delayed until 2009
· Suspicion of foreign firms slows progress on oil

Three key US-backed measures on oil, provincial elections and the future of US troops are mired in the Iraqi parliament, raising doubts as to whether they can come into effect before George Bush leaves office.

Once listed as a crucial "benchmark" allowing the US president to claim success in Iraq, the provincial elections look likely to be delayed until next year. The oil law, which nationalist MPs blocked last summer over fears that foreign companies would take over Iraq's major resource, is facing the same problem again.

The pact to permit US troops to remain in Iraq is equally sensitive, and was described by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, this month as being in stalemate. Intensive US-Iraqi talks on new drafts have resumed and, after meeting Bush in the White House this week, President Jalal Talabani tried to sound optimistic. "We have very good, important steps towards reaching to finalise this agreement," he said. Many MPs complain that it will give the US excessive rights.


The Kurds have reluctantly agreed to postpone again the referendum on self-determination, required by Iraq's constitution, in Kirkuk and other regions with large Kurdish populations. Iraq's Arab parties and western diplomats argue that a referendum could spark new inter-communal violence. Rows between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government, which has defied the federal government by signing oil deals with small foreign companies, are making the passage of a new oil law difficult.

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