Iraq national assembly adopts new election law

Iraq national assembly adopts new election law

UN urges panel to set February 27 as date for parliamentary poll

Iraq national assembly adopts new election law

The law was approved on Sunday, minutes ahead of a midnight deadline by a comfortable majority one month after Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi used his veto to block the passage of an earlier draft. He said this harmed the 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled the country since the 2003 US invasion and occupation.

Under the new version of the law, exiles will vote in their home provinces and their votes will be given the same treatment as those of Iraqis who remain at home. Iraq’s parliament will be expanded from 275 to 325 seats, 310 of which will be allocated to the country’s 18 provinces and the rest to religious minorities and blocs that won support on the national level but did not win seats in the provinces.

The vote was originally fixed for January 16 but has to be rescheduled because the election commission needs at least 90 days to prepare for balloting.  The main winners in the prolonged struggle over the law were the Kurds who secured 41 seats for their semiautonomous region, three more than under the 2005 law. Kurds are also likely to win seats in adjacent provinces and could be allocated to two of the 15 “national” places.

US pressure

The Kurdish leadership, represented by regional president Massoud Barzani only agreed to the deal under strong pressure from the United States. He spent nearly an hour on the phone with Vice-President Joe Biden on Sunday and had a phone call from President Barack Obama as well.  

Washington became alarmed after fractious deputies failed to reach an agreement during 11 sessions.  The vote and installation of a new government will dictate whether or not the Obama administration’s timetable for the withdrawal of combat troops will be met.

Delay of polling beyond the end of February could mean postponing the evacuation of 90,000 US soldiers slated to be out of Iraq by August. Some 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq to train local forces until the end of 2011. Obama is determined to stick to his timetable because he has pledged another 30,000 forces for the mission in Afghanistan on top of the 70,000 US troops already deployed.