Impasse over Iraqi election law may slow U.S. withdrawal


BAGHDAD — After three days of long sessions and continuous
delays, the Iraqi parliament failed Wednesday to reach agreement on a new
election law, asked a little-used national political council to resolve the
impasse and adjourned until Sunday.

The speaker of the parliament, Dr. Ayad al-Samarrai, said at
a news conference that the parliament had resolved 90 percent of what he called
obstacles — including allowing Iraqis to vote directly for individual
candidates, not just party lists — but that lawmakers remained deadlocked over
how January’s scheduled parliamentary elections should be conducted in oil-rich
northern Kirkuk province.

The impasse over how Kirkuk, where Kurdish Sunni Muslims
have relocated in large numbers to reverse the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s
campaign to populate it with Sunni Arabs, should be represented in the
parliament could delay the elections, and the Obama administration’s plan to
accelerate a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

A speedier withdrawal is essential to any plan to send more
than 35,000 or so additional American troops to Afghanistan.

Al-Samarrai referred the issue Wednesday to Iraq’s Political
Council for National Security, which includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a
Shiite Muslim, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the leaders of the
parliament’s political blocs. Al-Maliki has been visiting the U.S., so it’s
unclear how quickly the council could convene or the parliament could vote on a
compromise, if the council can negotiate one.

Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent leader in the Shiite Dawa party,
didn’t show great enthusiasm for referring the matter to the council, saying
that its leaders are already members of the parliament.

“The decision was made by the parliament presidency
board, not by the lawmakers,” he said. “Some members consider it
illegal, because the Political Council for National Security is not (a legal
entity), and its decisions are not compulsory.”

Al-Adeeb told McClatchy Newspapers in a phone call that the
Kirkuk issue is the main problem with the new law. He added that Arab and
Turkomen want to use 2004 voter records, because those after the 2005 election
reflect a large increase in the province’s Kurdish population. The Kurdish bloc
in the parliament, however, wants the province’s representation to reflect that
increase, which Kurds argue merely reverses Saddam’s “Arabization”

Hashim al-Ta’i, a member of Tawafuq, the main Sunni bloc in
the parliament, said he thought that sending the issue to the political council
was a good step because the political blocs couldn’t find a solution.

“Sending the law to the political council will save
time in discussing the disputed point and the parliament still have the right
to approve or disapprove the decision of the council,” he said.

Fawzi Akram, a lawmaker from the Shiite bloc led by radical
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, accused the Kurds of trying to delay approval of the
new law.

“Kirkuk is the first and the last point of
disagreement,” he said. “The Sadrist bloc, the Turkomen and Tawafuq
bloc presented many suggestions to solve the Kirkuk issue, but they were all
rejected by the Kurds.”

Arab and Turkomen lawmakers want to treat Kirkuk differently
from other provinces in the coming election, but Kurdish lawmakers want its
representation to reflect its current ethnic makeup, as in other provinces.

“If we want to check the voters’ records in Kirkuk and
the changes that have happened to it, we should also talk about the records in
Mosul, Salahuddin, Diyala and even Baghdad,” said Abdul Khaliq Zangana, a
lawmaker from the Kurdish coalition.

Zangana called referring the election law to the political
council an indication “of lack of responsibility in the parliament.”


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