Iraqi president hints he might veto minorities bill

Source: Reuters
 BAGHDAD, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, whose three-member Presidency Council vets all legislation, has hinted he might veto a bill guaranteeing council seats to minorities, which they complain gives them too few seats.

A statement from Talabani’s office posted on his website late on Thursday said he had met with minority Christians.

“They expressed worries about the negative impact of the law passed in parliament, which they said gives them a small number of seats and does not protect their rights,” the statement said.

“They (Christians) asked the council to reject this law. The president showed full support to Christian and other minorities (and) … promised he will not sign any law that could deprive any Iraqi groups of their rights,” the statement said.

Iraq’s parliament voted on Monday to guarantee religious minorities six seats of a total of 440 on provincial councils to be elected across Iraq next year, but drew anger from some politicians who said it was not enough.

Unless Talabani’s three member Presidency Council approves a bill unanimously, it has to go back to parliament for reworking.

The proposed law, which the Presidency Council will discuss on Saturday, shares the six seats between Christians, Yazidis and other religious groups that make up a small part of Iraq’s 28 million mainly Muslim population.

Critics say the measure fell short of a U.N. proposal to set aside 12 seats for the groups. Christians are thought to number as many as 750,000, Christian lawmaker Yunadim Kanna says.

The council has rejected legislation it disapproved of in the past, most recently when it threw out a provincial elections bill in July that Talabani thought unfair to his fellow Kurds.

Talabani did not explicitly say he would reject this law, but Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, another member of the Council whose vote is required, has been equally frosty on it.

“With respect to parliament’s resolution, I had hoped that our Christian brothers and other groups, … would get special protection from marginalisation,” he said on Thursday.

Provincial polls will select council members to run 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces and are considered key to healing political rifts. They could reshape Iraqi politics if Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the last polls in 2005, come out in force.

The vote is also a battleground for rival Shi’ite parties.

The plight of Iraqi Christians was highlighted last month when 1,500 families fled attacks or intimidation in the northern city of Mosul, although many have since returned. (Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Philippa Fletcher)