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Iraq's Presidency Approves Provincial-Elections Law

President Jalal Talabani (right) and Vice President Adel Abdul-Mehdi
AL-SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (Reuters) -- Iraq's president and vice presidents have agreed to ratify the country's provincial-elections law, officials said, paving the way for a long-awaited vote to be held before January 31 next year.

The polls had been scheduled for October 1, but the law governing how the vote should be conducted stalled in parliament over how to treat the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, where control is disputed by Kurds, Arabs, and ethnic Turkomans.

Parliament adopted a revised version last month that puts off a decision on Kirkuk while authorizing the election in other provinces.

"The Presidency Council has agreed to ratify the provincial-elections law," the head of the presidential office, Nasir al-Ani, said.

The council, which consists of President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents, Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi, has the power to veto laws. Talabani is a Kurd, al-Mahdi is a Shi'ite Arab, and Hashimi is a Sunni Arab, representing the country's three main ethnic and sectarian groups.

Minority Sects

Talabani used his veto power to reject a previous version of the bill in July after Kurds, angry over the Kirkuk issue, boycotted the parliamentary session that passed it.

Talabani, al-Mahdi, Hashimi, and other top Iraqi officials met in Al-Sulaimaniyah Governorate and were expected to announce the official ratification of the law.

Officials at the meeting suggested a clause that guaranteed council seats for Christians and other minority sects, known as Article 50, could be added to the bill.

Parliament removed the guaranteed seats for minorities from the bill, prompting street demonstrations by Christians last week. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has asked for the quotas to be restored.

"There has been agreement to ratify the law and send it to parliament with the suggestion of the addition of Article 50," said Laith Shubbar, an official at al-Mahdi's office.

The elections, which will select provincial councils across Iraq, will provide clues on how Shi'ite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish factions will fare in national polls scheduled for late 2009.