Iraq lawmakers to resume work on budget next week

BAGHDAD Thu Feb 19, 2009 8:41am EST

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi lawmakers will resume work next week on approving the oil producing country's 2009 budget, despite failing once more on Thursday to select a new parliament speaker, the chamber's acting head said.

"(Parliament) will not go on holiday until we have finished voting on the budget," said Shi'ite lawmaker and acting speaker Khalid al-Attiya. The legislature had been due to go into recess on February 1 but has been putting it off.

Work on the budget, an important task as Iraq confronts sharply lower oil revenues at a time when it desperately needs funds to rebuild after six years of war, has been held up by parliament's inability to agree on a new speaker.

Neither Ayad al-Samarai, leader of the Sunni Arab Accordance Front, nor Khalil Jeduaa, from the Iraqi National Dialogue bloc, got enough votes to win the influential position on Thursday.

"So parliament should look for a new consensus candidate," Attiya said.

Under an unwritten agreement to share top offices among Iraq's three main communities following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, the country's president has been a Kurd, its prime minister a Shi'ite Arab and the speaker a Sunni Arab.

Former speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani resigned almost two months ago in a flurry of criticism from fellow politicians over his brash style.

The budget scenario is gloomy for Iraq, which depends on oil exports for virtually all government revenues.

After oil prices collapsed from their all-time high last year, spending plans for 2009 were slashed from $80 billion to $62 billion. With oil prices below the $50 per barrel target set out in the draft budget, it may end up being even lower.

The 2008 budget, including supplementary funds made possible by an oil windfall, totaled around $69 billion.

The Iraqi parliament on Thursday did confirm a new justice minister to replace Hashem al-Shebly, a secular member of the National List bloc who resigned almost two years ago in 2007.

The new justice minister, Dara Noor-Eldeen, is a Kurd who was a senior judge prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

(Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Aseel Kami; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Michael Christie/Victoria Main)