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Iraq's parliament fails to agree on election law

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windreader1


Iraq's parliament fails to agree on election law
Wed Oct 21, 2009 8:34am EDT

* Dispute sent to high-level council

* Kirkuk impasse may mask real reason for disagreement

* One more week before election date in doubt

By Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Iraq's fractious parliament failed on Wednesday to agree on a law that will determine how the next election is run, raising fears that the vote may have to be delayed.

The Jan. 16 parliamentary election is seen as crucial for consolidating democracy after years of war. The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, warned that time was critical and that further delays in passing the legislation may call into doubt not only the date, but also the credibility of the result.

"It is the collective responsibility of members of parliament to now rise to the occasion and be ready to account to the Iraqi people, who expect to exercise their right to express their preference in the upcoming elections," he said.

The elections will be a critical test as Iraq emerges from more than six years of sectarian conflict unleashed by the U.S. invasion in 2003 and begins to stand on its own feet ahead of a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.

"This situation is so embarrassing," said Faraj al-Haidari, head of the electoral commission. He said the body could wait at most another week before the election date would be in doubt.

Agreement over the framework for the election was initially thwarted by a dispute over what kind of voting system to use -- open lists, under which voters can pick individual candidates, or closed lists, under which they can only pick parties.

This week, the dispute has focused on how votes should be distributed in the contested city of Kirkuk and its rich oilfields -- a flashpoint for possible conflict between minority Kurds and Iraq's majority Arabs.

Kurds view Kirkuk as their ancestral home and want it included in their semi-autonomous northern enclave. Arabs, who were encouraged by former dictator Saddam Hussein to settle in Kirkuk to dilute Kurdish influence, oppose such a move.

The United Nations proposed Kurds be given a '50 percent plus one' share of the vote in the city, to reflect the return since the 2003 invasion of thousands of Kurds. Arab lawmakers said no.

REASON FOR STALLING?

Baha al-Araji, head of the parliament's legal panel, said lawmakers had referred the dispute to a council made up of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Iraq's two vice presidents and other political leaders.

"Any agreed formula that comes out of the council meeting will be read and voted on in parliament next week," he said.

"Regrettably, some political blocs are stalling, using pretexts like Kirkuk to delay passing the law."

Political insiders say Kirkuk may just be a convenient smokescreen. The impasse may still have more to do with the initial disagreement over the election system to be used.

The Shi'ite-led alliance, which has dominated Iraq since the last election in 2005, has unravelled, and the January poll will primarily pit Maliki against his former Shi'ite Muslim partners. Open lists are viewed as likely to benefit Maliki, who is seeking credit for a sharp drop in overall violence.

His main rivals, the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, and supporters of fiery anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, publicly state they support open lists, but many believe the groups would fare better under closed lists. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Aseel Kami; Writing by Michael Christie; editing by Jack Kimball and Mark Trevelyan)

windreader1


Deadlock Over Election Law in Iraq
Published: October 21, 2009

BAGHDAD— The Iraqi Parliament failed again Wednesday to enact an election law, saying it had reached a stalemate. The deadlock increased the pressure to delay Iraq’s national elections, which in turn might slow down the American withdrawal from the country.

The speaker of parliament, Ayad al-Samarraie, adjourned the assembly until Sunday and referred the issue for mediation to the little-used Political Council for National Security, which includes the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the president, Jalal Talabani, and party heads, according to a spokesman for the speaker, Jabbar Mashhadani.

Mr. Maliki has been on a trip to the United States, making it unlikely the council could deliberate quickly, pushing a vote on a new election law to Sunday at the earliest. Any delay in the elections could delay the timetable for withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq.

The American military commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, has said the United States would review its troop levels, now at 120,000, a month or two after the elections. President Obama has pledged to reduce those numbers to 50,000 by August 2011, which leaves little room for delay. The Oct. 15 deadline to enact the election law passed last week, but legislators had been meeting around the clock to hammer out a compromise, and until Tuesday, many were hopeful of a resolution. They deadlocked over the issue of how to register and count voters in the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission and United Nations elections experts have said Iraq needs at least 90 days to adequately prepare for the vote. Iraq’s existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended.

While Iraqi legislators agreed on most of the changes, they could not agree on Kirkuk. “A delay in approving an elections law will endanger the election date set by Parliament, because we need time to prepare,” said Hamdiyaal-Husseiny, chief of l administration at the electoral commission.

“The situation is critical,” said Qassim al-Aboudi, the chief officer of the commission. It was unclear whether the Political Council, which includes the same political forces as Parliament, would be able to find a compromise.
Mohammed Hussein contributed reporting from Baghdad

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