Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Iraqis demand control of oil wealth

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Iraq's leaders, flexing muscles as the US prepares to cede sovereignty, are sending a delegation to the UN to demand control of their oil wealth and an end to reparations it pays for former president Saddam Hussein's wars.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Bayati said yesterday that the embryonic government in Baghdad would demand a say this week in a new UN resolution on the country's affairs.

Following Monday's car bomb assassination outside the US headquarters of the head of their Governing Council, Iraqis who will be running the country after the handover of power on June 30 are increasingly dismayed not only at the US failure to provide security but also at limits on their new sovereignty.

"Iraq must have a say in the next UN resolution," Bayati said. "We will negotiate on the basis that Iraq must be fully in charge of its resource wealth, and the 5 percent of oil revenues we pay [in war reparations] must be reduced further."

Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafedh, a candidate for prime minister, said the next government will review the debt and reparations because Iraq had no say in calculating them and Iraqi officials had not seen documents proving the claims.

"Legitimate demands have to be respected, but it is unjust for Iraq to pay for the crimes of Saddam with its future," Hafedh said. "The international community must be mindful of the immense problems we are facing."

Washington's authority in Iraq, 14 months after an invasion that many Iraqis welcomed as a relief from Saddam, has been undermined by insecurity, poverty and a burgeoning scandal over the abuse of Iraqi detainees by US soldiers.

There were fresh clashes in the south of the country between US troops and militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

In the holy city of Kerbala, they fought running battles around dawn that killed at least eight Iraqis and wounded 13.

Some of the fiercest fighting took place only 100m from the city shrines, as guerrillas launched rocket-propelled grenades at US tanks moving into the area.

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