Iraq’s national elections in jeopardy after vice president’s veto


BAGHDAD — Iraq’s pivotal national elections were thrown back
into turmoil and potential delay Wednesday after Vice President Tariq al
Hashemi vetoed part of an election law and sent it back to parliament.

Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim, charged that the measure doesn’t
provide adequate representation for millions of displaced Iraqis, most of whom
are thought to be Sunnis.

Successful national elections, which are supposed to take
place in January, are a crucial milestone for the departure of U.S. troops from
Iraq. President Barack Obama wants to remove all American combat forces from
Iraq by Aug. 31.

A senior official from Iraq’s independent elections
commission said it was suspending preparations for the elections, which had
just gotten under way last week.

“We halted all sorts of preparations for the next
elections because we don’t have a date for elections and we don’t have a
law,” said Qassim al Aboudi, the head of the commission’s electoral

It wasn’t immediately clear how quickly the latest snag in
Iraqi politicians’ torturous effort to arrange the elections could be overcome.
Parliament members are scheduled to meet Thursday to debate the changes Hashemi
has demanded.

“Our hope, obviously, is it will not delay the timing
of the elections,” said Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces
in Iraq.

Odierno said he had until about May 1 to decide whether to
ask Obama to alter the Aug. 31 timeline. All American forces are due to be out
of Iraq by the end of 2011. Odierno said there were now 115,000 U.S. troops in
Iraq, a slight reduction from recent levels.

Hashemi’s action underscored how sectarian politics still
predominates in Iraq, despite a buildup of American troops beginning in 2007
aimed at improving security and providing a climate for political

Iraq’s parliament passed the elections law 10 days ago,
following nearly a dozen delays, after papering over a dispute over the divided
Kirkuk region and other disputed areas.

On Tuesday, however, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani
threatened a Kurdish boycott of the elections, charging that Kurds were
under-represented in government figures for ration cards, which serve to
identify voters.

Hashemi told a news conference Wednesday that the number of
so-called “compensatory” seats for displaced people had been reduced
to seven, from 45 in Iraq’s 2005 election, despite an increase in Iraq’s
displaced inside and outside the country. He said the amendment he sought could
be finished “in one day.”

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who’s a Shiite Muslim,
issued a statement saying the veto poses “a serious threat to the
political process and democracy … and didn’t put into consideration the
higher national interest.”

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.


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