AMMAN (Reuters) -
Iraq's Kurds want at least partial control over
northern oil resources in a post-war political
system that ends uneven distribution of wealth,
Planning Minister Barham Salih said on Friday.
The Kurds, who emerged as a powerful faction in
postwar Iraq along with the Shi'ite majority, are
lobbying for a new constitution being drafted to
allow all provinces, including southern oil centers,
to participate in oil decision making, Salih, who is
a leading Kurdish politician, told Reuters.
If this succeeds, foreign oil firms will have to
negotiate about developing fields in the country
with the second largest reserves in the world with
provincial governments eager to raise their share of
oil revenue, as well as with central government.
"We call for allowing the provinces to participate
in managing the oil sector because the strict
central system of managing it has proved its
failure," said Salih, who was in Amman after meeting
British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London.
Salih said negotiations to decentralize power over
the economy, allowing more say for northern Kurdish
provinces and the mostly Shi'ite south, were crucial
for the success of the new federal constitution.
"There are different opinions in the constitutional
committee about ownership of resources. Some are
demanding (local) ownership and others are demanding
general national ownership," he said.
"We must not repeat the past monopoly by a few of
resources," he said, referring to Saddam's Tikriti
A copy of a draft constitution being discussed by
the parliamentary committee was published in the
state-owned al-Sabah newspaper this week.
It said regional governments can strike agreements
with foreign governments that "do not contradict the
rights and interests of the federal union or other
Salih did not say how much authority regional
governments would have to negotiate oil deals versus
the central government.
A senior Shi'ite official, who declined to be named,
told Reuters the oil devolution scheme was likely to
succeed, although there was concern it could
increase the politicization of the sector and rob it
Scores of foreign companies have been in contact
with the American-backed central government since
the U.S.-led invasion that removed Saddam Hussein
and his Baath party from power in 2003 about the
potential for oilfield development.
Some have been also talking with Kurdish officials
in Arbil And Suleimaniya, the Kurdish capitals of
the north, oil executives said.
"The federal structure should guarantee balanced
development. One of the vices of the oppressive
central system is unjust distribution of wealth and
resources," Salih said.
"Go to the southern Amara province, which is an
important source of oil, and you see miserable basic
services. Go to Kirkuk, this city rich with oil, and
you see low living standards and appreciate the size
of the problem in Iraq," he added.
The north has major oil and gas fields, including
Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed province that Kurds
demand as part of their federal region and whose
status is expected to be decided after general
elections due at the end of this year.
Sabotage against oil facilities has contributed to
limiting Kirkuk's output to 400,000 barrels per day
(bpd). The rest of Iraq's 1.8 million bpd output
comes mainly from the south.
The country's oil planners hope to raise output to
five million bpd in a few years if Iraq stabilizes
and its oilfields are developed after decades of
wars and crushing U.N. sanctions that caused