Iraq Passes Provincial Elections Law

iraq65011.jpgBy ERICA GOODE

BAGHDAD — After months of bitter negotiation, Iraq’s Parliament passed a law on Wednesday clearing the way for provincial elections crucial in helping to heal the country’s deep political and religious fissures. The law means that elections will be held in most parts of the country by the end of January.

Mohammad Jalil/European Pressphoto Agency
An Iraqi policeman stood patrol outside an election station in Baghdad Wednesday. A poster hanging nearby read, “Voting Center No. 75, We vote for our future and we choose Iraq.”
But in passing the bill, the lawmakers simply delayed dealing with the two most divisive issues they faced: how to resolve a quarrel among ethnic groups over the control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north and how best to achieve political representation for Iraq’s Christians and other minorities.

Many Sunni Iraqis boycotted elections in 2005, leaving them underrepresented in Iraq’s political process. New elections are seen as crucial to reintegrating them. But efforts to legislate the vote were stalled by bitter disputes over Kirkuk and minorities in the last session of Parliament.

The new law, calling for elections to be held everywhere but Kirkuk by the end of January, was passed by a majority of the Parliament’s 275 members. In Kirkuk, the current provincial council will remain in place until a separate election law for the province can be passed. How long that will take is not clear.

The law passed Wednesday provides for a committee made up of representatives of the major groups who have made claims there — Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians — to present recommendations for resolving the dispute to Parliament by March 31.

The law delegates to another committee the thorny issue of how to achieve representation for Christians and other minorities on the provincial councils. That committee is to work with the United Nations to reach a solution.

The law specifies that 25 percent of the council representatives elected must be women — the same quota that applies to Parliament.

The law must still be approved by the country’s three-member presidential panel led by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who just this summer vetoed an earlier election bill that Parliament had struggled to produce.

Lawmakers had envisioned holding elections this fall, but the date had been steadily pushed back, although now they look set to go ahead in most parts of the country in January. But the status of Kirkuk remains a controversial issue. Kurdish officials insist that Kirkuk rightfully belongs to Kurdistan. Sunni Arab and Turkmen lawmakers had proposed a power-sharing agreement to govern the city.

Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York.