BAGHDAD, 07 March 2007 (Reuters)

An influential Sunni Arab group criticised Iraq’s long awaited oil investment law on Tuesday, accusing the United States and Britain of invading the country out of greed for its vast oil wealth.

Iraq’s cabinet agreed a draft of the law last month after months of wrangling, sending it to parliament for final approval.

The law sets out how oil revenues will be divided among the population and regulates how foreign companies will be able to invest in exploration and production.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have said the law will be a crucial ingredient for Iraqi reconciliation. It states that oil revenues will be spread evenly according to population around the country rather than staying in the region where the oil is found.

Sunni Arabs have long feared that Shi’ites and ethnic Kurds, who sit on top of Iraq’s vast oil fields, will not share the country’s wealth in an even way.

The Muslim Scholars Association, a leading Sunni clerics group accused by the Iraqi government of fomenting violence, said the law as drafted was “invalid and lacks legitimacy”.

“The occupation forces have been rushing to pass such a law in a way that the rights of generations of Iraqis will sold,” the group said in a statement, adding that U.S. and British forces had “hidden their intentions for many years”.

“The Americans backed by the British occupation forces have started to reveal their greed for Iraq’s oil wealth,” it said.

The Muslim Scholars Association is influential amongst disaffected Sunni Arabs, once the dominant group in Iraq under Saddam Hussein but now marginalised since multiparty elections in 2005 swept majority Shi’ites and Kurds to power.

Sunni Arab insurgent attacks on Iraq’s oil infrastructure are already affecting exports, particularly from northern Iraq.