Iraqi Christians protest new election law

BAGHDAD: Hundreds of Iraqi Christians rallied in northern Iraq on Sunday to protest a new provincial elections law they say denies them their rights because it fails to give them a guaranteed number of seats on provincial councils.

Amid growing criticism over the issue, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed to parliament and the electoral commission to restore the quota guaranteed in the old election law.

“The minorities should be fairly represented in the provincial councils and their rights should be guaranteed,” al-Maliki said in a letter received by parliament on Sunday, according to Wissam al-Zubeidi, an aide to deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah.

Hundreds of Christians staged street protests after Sunday church services in and around Mosul, a northern city where many of the country’s Christians live.

They condemned the law for not guaranteeing them a quota, in contrast to the previous law. Some said they believed it was an attempt to marginalize and push them to leave Iraq.

Iraq’s estimated 1 million Christians have been targeted by Muslim militants since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, with priests, churches and Christian-owned businesses attacked. The violence has forced many of the Christians to flee the country.

“This is an unjust decision and it affects our rights as Christians,” Matti Galia, a local Christian politician, said of the new elections law. “We are original citizens in this country. The politicians’ goal was to divide the Iraqi people and create more struggles. Indirectly, they are telling us to leave Iraq,” he said at a Mosul rally.

Iraq’s parliament approved a law Wednesday that paves the way for the first provincial elections in four years. Lawmakers did not set a quota for Christians and other minorities, citing a lack of census data to determine what the quotas should be.

In violence, at least eight people were killed in attacks, four of them in Diyala, one of the country’s most volatile provinces.

In Baghdad, snipers fired on an army checkpoint, killing two Iraqi soldiers and a civilian in the eastern Zayona neighborhood. A roadside bomb also killed an Iraqi soldier on a patrol in Mansour, a mostly Sunni area in western Baghdad, police officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Two civilians also were killed in an armed attack in Khan Bani Saad by a group believed tied to al-Qaida, a police official in Diyala said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. The town is near the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba.

The same official said that two Iraqi army service members were killed and 10 others wounded when a bomb targeted them in Balad Ruz, 45 miles (70 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad late Saturday.

A medic in the Balad Ruz hospital said the hospital received the bodies of the two soldiers. The 10 wounded suffered burns and shrapnel wounds and were later taken by U.S. soldiers to a military base in the area, he said on condition of anonymity because he too was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Also Sunday, an Iraqi official said the country has signed preliminary deals with General Electric Co. and Siemens AG for boosting the country’s electricity generation.

The deals are meant to upgrade the country’s power grid, which has been ravaged by years of war, sanctions and neglect.

Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz Sultan said GE will supply turbines to some of Iraq’s power plants. He said Iraq has also signed a similar memorandum of understanding with a third company but he had no details about it.

Lengthy power outages have been common in Iraq, with some Baghdad areas getting as little as four hours of electricity a day. They become a major cause of discontent during the summer when the heat is punishing.


Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.