02/14/2008, 00.00
IRAQ
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Doubts over the budget agreement in parliament

The three important laws have averted a crisis of government. But there is a lack of clarity on the terms of the agreement, on the date of the provincial elections, and on the percentage of the budget to be assigned to Kurdistan. Tensions over oil policy still persist between Baghdad and Erbil.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The contentious approval in Parliament yesterday of the three laws on the budget, the provincial elections, and amnesty for detainees has for the moment saved the Iraqi government from collapse, but it does not smooth over the increasing divergences between Baghdad and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.  The three laws - combined in a single package - fix a date for the provincial elections, allocate 48 billion dollars for the 2008 budget (editor's note: mostly coming from oil revenue), and grant limited amnesty to about 25,000 detainees in the Iraqi prisons who have not been condemned for or accused of violent crimes.  Many of these suspects are Sunni "insurgents", former Baathists, and detainees under cautionary arrest.  The laws are therefore meant to appease the three main forces of national policy: the Sunnis, the Kurds - who are believed to have obtained their goal of 17% of the budget, against the 14% that the Arabs wanted to allocate to them - and the Shiites, who are aiming for rapid provincial elections.  The Kurds had threatened to leave the coalition - eliminating the parliamentary quorum - if their proposals were not accepted.  For this reason, yesterday's results have been welcomed as essential progress toward difficult national unity.

But precise details on the date of the elections and on the terms of the percentage of the budget assigned to the provinces - sources of the friction among the three blocks- have not been officially released.  It is feared, as some Sunni parliamentarians have denounced, that the legislative package passed under threats and pressure for the sole purpose of keeping the government on its feet, and that "Iraqi-style" agreements have been made under the table.  This brings the risk of new discord among the parties, and further political instability.

The current situation between the central government and the Kurds is far from peaceful.  Kurdistan continues to forge autonomously, without "passing" through Baghdad, contracts with foreign companies for the production of oil and the development of reserves in its territory.  The most recent is the contract with a consortium of Korean companies, including the state-run Korea National Oil Corp., which has obtained rights to explore one of the largest reserves, estimated to contain a billion barrels of oil.  To stop the increasingly independent tendency of Erbil, as of December 31, 2007, the central government called off all collaboration with international oil companies, about 20 of them, which have signed "production-sharing" agreements with the Kurds.

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