BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Kurdistan is ready to restart negotiations with Baghdad to end their crisis, focusing on a long-delayed oil law to hand regions more say in managing energy resources, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Rosh Nuri al-Shawish, a Kurd, said.
The positive tone from Shawish signaled the Shi’ite-led central government and self-governed Kurdistan may be edging towards resolving their dispute over oil, territory and power-sharing that is straining Iraq’s uneasy federal union.
Shawish told Reuters Kurdistan believes part of the dispute can be ended by passing an amended 2007 draft of an oil and gas law, which all parties had agreed to as part of broader power-sharing among Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocks.
“Approving this draft and adding some amendments which are agreed on by all parties ... is the proper way to resolve this,” the deputy prime minister, one of the go-betweens for talks between Baghdad and Kurdistan, said in an interview.
Shawish said Kurdish officials had met with the head of the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite National Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, for preliminary talks, and the atmosphere had improved enough for them to see room for progress.
Kurdistan has tested Baghdad’s resolve for months by signing deals with foreign oil majors, such as Exxon and Chevron, contracts the central government rejects as illegal and part of a Kurdish push for more autonomy.
Their dispute is complicating a crisis in Iraq’s fragile power-sharing central government, which was hobbled by infighting among Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish parties even before the last U.S. troops left in December.
Kurdish leaders and the Sunni-backed Iraqiya party often accuse Maliki of sidelining them and say the Shi’ite leader is amassing power at their expense. His backers say the premier’s partners in power-sharing are trying to unseat him.
Baghdad and the Kurdish capital Arbil are currently fighting over exports. Kurdistan has threatened to stop its share of national oil exports at the start of September, claiming Baghdad is not fulfilling payments to companies working there.
Iraq says Kurdish authorities have not supplied the correct paperwork and receipts for an audit of payments.
Adoption of a new oil and gas law has long been considered critical to the success of Iraq’s rapidly developing oil sector, although Baghdad has signed multibillion-dollar contracts with global oil majors despite antiquated legal safeguards.
Last year, Maliki and Kurdistan agreed by December 2011 they would either amend the 2007 hydrocarbons law as agreed by all political factions or adopt the 2007 law as is. But that deadline past without agreement.
The 2007 draft gives regional powers partial authority over their reserves, and Maliki advisors have said in the past they would prefer that version because time was running short.
Autonomous since 1991, Iraq’s Kurdistan runs its own government and armed forces, but relies on the central government for a percentage of the country’s oil revenues from the national budget.
Shawish said Kurdish officials believe signing exploration contracts with oil majors without Baghdad’s permission is a constitutional right. Disputes flared because Baghdad relied on old oil laws from Saddam Hussein’s era centralizing control, he said.
“The controversy comes from this point, relying on old laws while looking for a new law in line with the constitution,” the Kurdish politician said.
Editing by Andrew Heavens and Patrick Markey