Iraqi parliament passes another election law

Salim Abdullah, a spokesman for the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament. Sunnis contend that the new law would reduce their representation. Both Shiite and Sunni legislators said it is likely to be vetoed.
Salim Abdullah, a spokesman for the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament. Sunnis contend that the new law would reduce their representation. Both Shiite and Sunni legislators said it is likely to be vetoed. (Khalid Mohammed/associated Press)
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By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi lawmakers on Monday approved an amended law to organize parliamentary elections next year, a ballot seen as crucial to U.S. plans to withdraw combat troops.

The law was pushed through by Shiite and Kurdish legislators over the objection of Sunni Arabs. Its passage was the latest turn in protracted efforts to agree on an election law that has roiled Iraqi politics and underscored the divisions that dominate political life here.

The voting also suggested a scenario that U.S. officials have dreaded: a repeat of the 2005 election in which Sunnis were aggrieved and effectively disenfranchised, setting the stage for civil strife.

"The biggest losers here are the Sunnis," said Ezzeddine al-Dawla, a lawmaker.

Parliament had approved the law Nov. 8 after weeks of wrangling and missed deadlines. Although U.S. officials hailed the vote, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, one of three members of Iraq's Presidency Council with the right to veto bills, rejected the law last week, saying it gave too little representation to Iraqis living abroad.

On Monday, in a move that outraged Sunni lawmakers, dozens of whom stormed out of the session, parliament approved a new formula to divide seats that effectively reduced Sunni representation. Another veto by Hashimi could prolong the crisis for weeks, if not months. Dawla, a Sunni, said the community might again boycott the elections.

Shiite and Sunni lawmakers alike predicted a second veto.

"What we voted on will be vetoed again," said Bahaa al-Araji, a Shiite who runs the parliament's powerful legal committee.

"We're going to veto the law because it's unconstitutional," Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, told reporters. "And that means a delay in the election."

The election law is key to U.S. plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq next August, reducing the military presence from 115,000 troops to 50,000. But the timeline for that pullout depends on the success of the elections, which will choose a new parliament.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said that the military would maintain about the current number of troops through May 1, by which time the United States hopes a new Iraqi government will be seated. But a long delay in elections originally scheduled for Jan. 16 could make that deadline harder to meet.

Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the electoral commission, suggested that the elections would be held in February, although he said he was waiting for Hashimi's decision.


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