updated 7/11/2007 6:08:15 PM ET 2007-07-11T22:08:15

Kurdish leaders spoke out Wednesday against a key oil law, raising further doubts over efforts to pass one of the political benchmarks sought by the United States at a time when the Bush administration is trying to fend off critics of its Iraq policy.

The political wrangling in Baghdad is having an impact in Washington, where a growing number of Senate supporters of the president’s strategy are now pressing for a change — pointing to the failure of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government to make political progress.

The oil bill and other benchmarks are aimed at encouraging the Sunni Arab minority to support the government and turn away from the insurgency, easing violence over the long-term. The oil law at the center of debate now is part of a package to regulate the industry and distribute its profits, aiming to address Sunni fears of being squeezed out of the wealth by Iraq’s dominant Shiites and Kurds.

But attempts to pass the bill have been blocked by multiple disputes within al-Maliki’s coalition, including a boycott of parliament by his Sunni Arab partners.

Conflict over amendments
The Kurds made clear Wednesday they oppose the latest draft of the bill, which al-Maliki said on July 3 had been approved unanimously by his Cabinet. His aides say the draft was passed after changes were made to an earlier version Kurds had said they supported.

The top oil official in the Kurd’s northern autonomous zone rejected those changes. The amendments “reduce the powers of the (Kurdish) region and should not be approved,” Kurdistan’s Natural Resource Minister Ashti Hawrami told a joint meeting of the Iraqi and Kurdish regional parliaments in the northern city of Irbil.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the amendments to the draft — which have not been made public — “were legal and dealt with the language but did not change the core.”

Sunni Arabs, who are centered in regions of Iraq without proven oil reserves, are pressing for greater central control of the industry, fearing that Kurds and Shiites in the oil-rich north and south will monopolize control of oil contracts and hoard the profits.

Eager for control
Kurds and Shiites are eager for control of the resources they were largely deprived of under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated rule. The Kurds also want to ensure they run development of lucrative future oil discoveries in their autonomous region in the north.

Hawrami did not specify what changes the Kurds reject. They opposed a past draft that they said gave too much power to a yet-to-be-established central national oil company in managing the country’s oil fields.

Sunni leaders have also denounced the current draft, which one powerful hardline clerical group has said violated Islamic law because it violates the unity of Iraq — apparently because it felt the draft decentralized oil control too much.

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