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Iraqi Parliament Committee Fails To Back Oil Law

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq's long-awaited hydrocarbons law has failed to win the backing of parliament's Oil and Gas Committee, with Kurdish members insisting the bill has not been properly approved by the cabinet, lawmakers said.

The hydrocarbons law would create a framework for investing in the OPEC member state, which has the world's third-largest petroleum reserves, but it has been held up for years by quarrels over how to distribute the wealth.

The government submitted a new draft version of the bill to parliament's Oil and Gas Committee earlier this month.

Committee head Ali Hussain Balu said members had decided after a meeting with parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani on October 26 that they could not endorse it because it had not been endorsed by the whole cabinet.

"Regrettably, the cabinet has sent us a version that was altered by the Oil Ministry, which is different from the draft approved [by the cabinet] in February 2007. We cannot accept it," Balu, a Kurd, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He said the draft, the most recent of four drafts that have been submitted to parliament since February 2007, did not bear the required approval of all cabinet members. He did not say how the draft differed from previous drafts.

The central government and regional authorities disagree over how to share the revenues from oil reserves, which are located mainly in the north and south of the country. The draft law has been opposed by politicians from the autonomous Kurdish north, who want greater control of their region's resources.

Balu said the committee had decided to ask for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in order to obtain formal cabinet approval of the modified draft, without which it could not move to the full parliament for a vote.

But the committee's deputy head, Abd al-Hadi al-Hasani, said revisions to the most recent version of the bill were not substantial and did not necessitate additional cabinet approval.

Al-Hasani, a Shi'ite Arab, said the committee's Kurds oppose the contents of the revised draft. He said al-Maliki should decide which version of the law should be voted on by parliament in order to avoid legal problems.