Such is the continued division over Iraq’s controversial oil law it is now unlikely to be passed before September, when the Bush administration must report to Congress on Iraq’s progress toward meeting certain legislative benchmarks.

The report is expected to have an impact on whether Congress continues to support the Iraq war.In Iraq’s Parliament yesterday several lawmakers outlined aspects of the oil measure on which lawmakers have yet to reach consensus. Such are the unresolved issues that it is seen to be difficult to complete the work before Parliament leaves for its month-long summer break at the beginning of August.

“The fact is that the political blocs haven’t reached an agreement,” said Ayad al-Sammaraie, one of the leaders of Tawaffuk, the largest of the Sunni Arab blocs in the Parliament. “What the government is doing can be described as dodging — the governmental bodies have not agreed among themselves.”

The law is also likely to be held up as there are growing moves to pass the oil laws as part of a package. The proposals involved are the oil and revenue-sharing measure, a new de-Baathification law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party, and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments so that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds would be equitably represented.

So unlikely is it that the law will be passed soon, that the US Ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker has sought to play down the importance of completing benchmark legislation by September and has asked Congress instead to keep its eye on overall trends by Iraqi political leaders in their efforts to reach agreements.

“As I look at the legislative benchmarks, hydrocarbons and reconciliation, they are important, but my goodness they are very complicated,” he said recently.

But what he doesn’t realise it that the more people think America is stealing Iraq’s hydrocarbons, the harder it will be for reconciliation.