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Iraqi lawmakers argue for caution in shaping oil law

They say that draft law has many holes, and that foreign pressure only draws ire.

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Iraqi lawmakers offer varying predictions for when the long-awaited oil law might pass parliament: in a month, by August, perhaps by fall.

The White House envisions passage this month of the law to share revenue among Iraq's sectarian populations and regulate foreign investment in oil. Congress wants quick approval as a sign of Iraq's seriousness about national reconciliation.

Iraqi legislators, however, have expressed strong concerns about holes in the legislation that, they say, could adversely affect the country in the long run. Most acknowledge the need for a law that will modernize an all-important industry. But, they say, they are creating a structure that will go to the heart of Iraq's future identity – and thus cannot rush the process. "It will pass, but it still takes much time and much negotiation," says Bayazid Hassan, a Kurdish member of parliament who warily predicts a late July passage. "We, too, want a law to settle this very important matter for Iraq, but it is too important for us to do this according to the schedule of others."

Still, the legislature appears to be making progress on other key benchmarks.

•The parliament's constitutional reform committee voted Tuesday to submit a set of revisions to lawmakers next week – technically meeting a constitution-imposed deadline of mid-May for presenting the draft changes. But the controversial issues still to be debated include the right of provinces to form powerful regions similar to the one the Kurds have in the north, and references to Iraq's Arab identity. The Sunnis reject the former, while the Kurds oppose the latter.

•Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi announced that proposals for revising the de-Baathification Law would be submitted to parliament next week. Approval could allow thousands of former Baathists to return to state jobs and quiet Sunni threats to pull their ministers out of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

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