Followers of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr Thursday joined a growing chorus of Sunni, Kurdish, and Shiite opposition to a draft oil law backed by Washington.
Amended draft legislation on the crucial distribution of oil wealth in Iraq was approved by Maliki's cabinet Tuesday and could go to parliament for review as early as next week.
According to AFP, Sadr's supporters said that they would not support any law that would allow firms "whose governments are occupying Iraq" to sign Iraqi oil deals. "The most serious problem with the law is the production-sharing agreements, which we categorically reject," said Nassar Al Rubaie, spokesman for Sadr's 32-member parliamentary bloc.
Such agreements, which provide for foreign oil companies to share investment and profits with the state, would "undermine Iraq's sovereignty in the short run and will strip it of its sovereignty in the long run," he added.
Meanwhile, Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said Thursday oil is a key factor keeping Australian troops in the US-led war in Iraq. However, Prime Minister John Howard contradicted him.
Nelson's remarks caused an immediate stir in Australia.
A new defense review had concluded that maintaining "resource security" in the Middle East was a priority, Nelson said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Energy security is extremely important to all nations throughout the world, and of course, in protecting and securing Australia's interests," he said.
"Obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world. "Australians and all of us need to think what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq," Nelson said.