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Iraqi Parliament Passes Election Law, But Sidesteps Key Difficulty


Christopher Hill, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, says he expects the Iraqi election to be held on January 23.
(RFE/RL) -- After weeks of argument, the Iraqi parliament has finally passed a new electoral law that will allow crucial national elections to go ahead early next year.

But the measure only achieved passage because the most difficult problem -- the status of the city of Kirkuk -- was largely put off for solution at a later time.

The new electoral law received legislative backing at a raucous November 8 session of parliament in Baghdad. Of the 196 members present, 141 voted in favor of the measure.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hailed the passing of the long-delayed law as a strong response to terrorists and thugs and those who want to hinder Iraq's progress.

It sets a framework of rules for the January national elections, which are seen as an essential step toward democratic maturity in Iraq, as the American military presence winds down.

Ordinary Iraqis seem pleased at developments, too.

"[Seeing the] voting on the election law yesterday was a real pleasure, as all the parties were in accord," Baghdad resident Dakhil Sahib told Reuters. "It was a joy for the Iraqi people."

But Iraqi political analyst Hazim al-Nuaimi by contrast describes the bill as "a bomb waiting to be activated." He says the law contains no agreement "at all" on the issue of the city of Kirkuk.

Sidesteps The Problem

Kirkuk is an ethnically mixed city that Kurds view as historically their own and want to incorporate into their semi-autonomous northern region. Arabs and Turkomans disagree and want it to stay under central control.

The electoral law largely sidesteps the problem by making the results of the coming election only provisional in Kirkuk, and subject to review within one year. The review will seek to establish if any one ethnic group has been moving large numbers of its people into Kirkuk, so as to "stack" the voting rolls in its favor.

But it's not clear what will happen if such "stacking" is found to have occurred.

Nevertheless, the international community is relieved that the electoral law has been passed so that elections can go ahead.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the vote will provide an opportunity for Iraqis to advance national reconciliation.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of Iraq's progress toward lasting peace.

"The United States will continue to stand with Iraq as a strong partner and as a friend. Tough challenges remain and I'm sure that there will be difficult days to come," Obama said.

"But this agreement advances the political progress that can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq, and allow for the orderly and responsible transition of American combat troops out of Iraq by next September."

Washington was worried that any further delay by parliament would force it to put back its troop withdrawal schedule, something Obama is particularly keen to avoid.

As it is, the date of the Iraqi elections, originally set for January 16, will have to be pushed back by at least a week due to the delays in getting the legislation passed. Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, says he expects the Iraqi election to be held on January 23.

With agency reports