December 8, 2009 8:02 AM
BAGHDAD - Iraq's presidency council has set March 6 as the date for next year's parliamentary election, and not Feb. 27 as widely expected, officials said on Tuesday.
The general election comes at a crucial juncture for Iraq as it emerges from the sectarian warfare triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion and prepares for U.S. troops to leave the country by the end of 2011.
Naseer al-Ani, chief of staff for President Jalal Talabani, said the date was selected in a meeting between the presidency council and electoral authorities.
"After consultation we agree that the best time to conduct the election is March 6, taking into consideration the religious ceremonies," Faraj al-Haidari, head of the independent electoral commission, told reporters.
"All agree that this is the best date," said Haidari.
Iraq's next general election should have been held by the end of January according to the constitution, but a law needed for it to take place was held up by protracted political wrangling.
Both Shiite and Sunni parties opposed holding the election close to the Shiite festival of Arbain, which runs until mid-February. Thousands of Shi'ites are expected to walk to the holy city of Kerbala from all over Iraq during the holiday.