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Iraqi Parliament Struggles To Meet On Election Law

Iraqi parliament
BAGHDAD -- Efforts to pass an election law that has stoked tensions with Iraq's minority Kurds faced problems with parliament struggling to get enough members to hold a special session.

Parliament must vote for a second time on the law, which is needed before provincial polls that could redraw the country's political map and has exposed fissures over the fate of the northern city of Kirkuk.

But by mid-afternoon, it was unclear if enough lawmakers were present to reach a quorum.

Deputies passed the provincial election law last month, but Kurdish legislators boycotted the session partly because the bill delayed voting in Kirkuk.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, then rejected the law as unconstitutional and sent it back. Iraq's three-member Presidency Council, which includes Talabani, must ratify all legislation.

Iraq's political blocs have met in recent days to try to reach a compromise on the law, but it was unclear if any breakthroughs had been reached. The special session was called because parliament officially began its summer recess last week.

The law has become a flashpoint as Iraqi Kurds seek to fold Kirkuk, which they see as an ancestral home, into their nearby autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Many of the ethnically mixed city's Arabs and Turkomans want the city to stay under central government control.

The fate of Kirkuk has sparked street protests in the past week. A suicide bomber killed at least 20 people during one demonstration in Kirkuk nearly a week ago. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has called for calm.

The rejected law delayed voting in Kirkuk, gave fixed seat allocations to each ethnic group and replaced Kirkuk's Kurdish peshmerga security forces with troops from other parts of Iraq. Kurdish legislators opposed all those measures.

The issue is coming to a head as violence across Iraq drops to levels not seen since early 2004 and the al-Maliki government negotiates a security deal with Washington that would set a "time horizon" for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq.

Meanwhile, a car bomb killed 12 people and wounded 22 others in a Sunni Arab area of Baghdad on August 3, Iraqi police said.

Major car bombs are now relatively rare in Baghdad, where a semblance of calm is returning more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein.

But some fear the Kirkuk tensions could jeopardize the security gains and steps toward greater political stability.

The provincial elections, which will select councils governing each of Iraq's 18 governorates, will provide early clues on how Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish factions and other minority groups will fare in national elections in 2009.

Washington believes the law will help reconciliation because minority Sunni Arabs will take part after boycotting the last local elections in 2005. They are under-represented in local government in areas where they are numerically dominant.