Iraq Cabinet OKs Oil Bill

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, presides over the cabinet meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, July 3, 2007.
AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet approved a draft oil law and the Iraqi parliament was to begin debate on the measure Wednesday, a major sign of progress in a long-delayed political benchmark sought by the U.S. to boost reconciliation between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites.

For months, Washington has pressed al-Maliki to quickly pass the oil law and other pieces of legislation that are considered a vital part of President Bush's attempts to end Iraq's turmoil — alongside a security crackdown by an increased U.S. military force.

But the law, which is to define the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, has been tied up in bickering between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties in al-Maliki's deeply divided ruling coalition, frustrating U.S. officials as American support for the war has waned.

In other recent developments:

  • The military said Tuesday that U.S. forces waged a large battle with gunmen near the western Sunni city of Ramadi over the weekend, in fighting that left 23 insurgents dead. The insurgents had massed on Donkey Island, a patch of land in a canal outside the city, and opened fire on U.S. troops, prompting the gun battle Saturday. Troops found caches of weapons, explosives and suicide vests, the military said.
  • Security forces in northern Iraq's Kurdistan, the heartland of the Kurdish minority long tormented by Saddam Hussein, routinely torture detainees with beatings and electric shocks and hold hundreds of prisoners for long periods without charge, a human rights group says. The Human Rights Watch report - based on interviews conducted from April to October 2006 with more than 150 detainees - demanded a comprehensive overhaul of detention practices in the Kurdish region. "We are surprised that the Kurds are practicing such violations after they were victims of torture during the Saddam era," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.
  • With hundreds of civilian contractors killed in Iraq since the war began, some lawmakers are taking a closer look at the costs and benefits of hiring private soldiers. CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick reports a new movie sparked some of that scrutiny.
  • A U.S. military Kiowa attack helicopter was shot down by insurgents south of Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military said in a statement. An Apache helicopter rescued the craft's two pilots, who were not seriously hurt, according to the U.S. military, which says that after the rescue, it dropped two 500-pound, laser-guided bombs on the downed aircraft to destroy it. The incident is under investigation.
  • Also Monday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two Marines it said were killed in a non-combat accident in Anbar province in Iraq. No details were given. The deaths bring to 3,585 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
  • A U.S. military official is charging that Iran is using the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah as a "proxy" to arm Shiite militants in Iraq and that the Quds force — an elite military force in Iran — had prior knowledge of a January attack in Karbala in which five Americans died.
  • In Baghdad, an Iraqi army lieutenant colonel and an Interior Ministry intelligence officer were killed in separate drive-by shootings Tuesday, police said. A car bomb hit the convoy of an Iraqi police colonel in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two passers-by and wounding 17, though the colonel survived, police in the city said.