[JURIST] The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on Sunday announced plans to collect signatures to initiate a referendum to make the province of Basra autonomous so that it can benefit from its oil wealth. The referendum was initiated by Wael Abdul Latif [AFP report], an independent member of parliament and former magistrate. Signatures will be collected [AFP report] from December 15 to January 14. The referendum could be held within three months. If passed, Basra would become an autonomous region with the same rights as Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. Abdul Latif maintains that relations with the central government would differ from Kurdistan's relations in that oil contracts would not become the responsibility of the Basra government.
Basra is an oil-rich province in southern Iraq that produces about 70 percent of the country's oil. Control of the province was handed over to the Iraqi government [DOD press release] last December. The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government [official website] adopted the "Kurdistan Oil and Gas Law" [JURIST report] in August 2007 after legislation was signed to allow the Kurdish government to control its own oil resources and select its own foreign investors.