Iraqi Cleric Asks Followers Not to Work for Foreign Oil
|December 20, 2010||Filled under Uncategorized|
BAGHDAD—Even before rival Iraqi politicians finish haggling over how to divide cabinet posts to form a unity government here, anti-American firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is weighing in on the country’s biggest economic issue: oil policy.
Mr. Sadr, whose militia waged pitched battles against American forces not long after they ousted Saddam Hussein, has banned his followers from accepting jobs with foreign oil companies working in southern Iraq, his spokesman said Sunday.
The ban raises questions about how much political opposition the oil companies may face from the new government being assembled by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Representatives of rival political factions taking part in forming a unity government were continuing negotiations as of late Sunday night. Mr. al-Maliki had promised to announce at least a partial cabinet by Monday.
Salah al-Obeidi, a Sadr spokesman, said the ban—issued Thursday on Mr. Sadr’s website as a religious edict called a fatwa—could be lifted after verifying the “legitimacy” of a company’s operations. The fatwa came in the form of a response to a question from a follower, asking if it was permissible to accept work from a private, British oil company offering jobs in the southern province of Missan.
Mr. Sadr responds: “In the name of the Almighty, presently not, this is prohibited.”
It isn’t clear whether any specific company was being singled out by the fatwa. Asim Jihad, spokesman for the Ministry of Oil declined to comment on the move. “The ministry does not get involved in the fatwas of clerics, and tries to stay away from these matters,” he said.
Last year, Prime Minister al-Maliki’s previous government forced through two oil auctions, welcoming a handful of foreign companies to rehabilitate some of Iraq’s biggest oil fields. Political opposition to the contracts has been muted.
A senior parliamentary leader from Mr. Sadr’s movement said the group is seeking nine portfolios in Mr. Maliki’s 41-member cabinet, including deputy prime minister. It isn’t clear whether the timing of the fatwa was meant to affect the intense jockeying for cabinet posts.
Dozens of international oil-services contractors, large and small, have flooded Iraq’s oil patch in recent months.
Missan is home to the prized Halfaya oil field. A consortium consisting of China National Petroleum Corp., Total SA and Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd won the right to develop the field in the second round of auctions at the end of last year.
Ali al-Turfi, spokesman for the government-owned Missan Oil Co., which oversees oil activities in the province, said he was disappointed in learning of the fatwa. “I can’t interfere in fatwas, but this would be a loss for the Iraqi citizen,” he said, adding that foreign firms could bring in their own labor.
Bahaa al-Araji, a member of parliament from the Sadrist movement, said the group plans to ask for an independent audit of the government’s contracts with foreign oil companies. Mr. Sadr’s spokesman Mr. Obeidi said: “We believe these licenses must be re-examined.”
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