Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies – The Iraqi parliament unanimously passed the amendment to its election law Sunday night just prior to the midnight deadline, following long deliberations and local and international intervention, avoiding a political deadlock.
The political blocs reached a last minute agreement to resolve the election law, which had triggered wide controversy, after Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi made a conditional decision to veto the bill if parliament failed to reach a settlement [on the proposed amendment].
Iraqi parliament voted on the proposal to set the number of Iraqi parliamentary seats to 325; 310 being allocated as provincial seats, with the remaining 15 seats being allocated as compensatory seats. This proposal was put forward by the United Nations in order to resolve this crisis.
For his part, the MP for the Sadrist trend Nasser al Rubaie said, “The matter was resolved and the agreement was finalized…the seats that were removed by the previous amendments will be restored, in addition to three [compensatory] seats for the Kurds.” However the Kurds had demanded an additional five seats. This amendment was put forward by al-Hashemi who threatened to veto the bill prior to the deadline if the removal of the [compensatory] parliamentary seats in Arab Sunni areas of Iraq was not reversed.
Shaker Kitab, the spokesman for the Tajdid List which is led by Tariq al Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat that al-Hashemi withdrew his veto because the restoration of the compensatory seats in the [Sunni] provinces represents “a major victory achieved by Iraq.”
Discussions were under way on Monday to postpone Iraq’s national elections by at least 45 days after lawmakers met the last-minute deadline to approve new voting rules, a delay that some worry will now complicate the planned U.S. withdrawal of combat troops.
The elections were initially scheduled for Jan. 16, but officials were proposing a delay of at least six weeks until late February after months of wrangling over a new election law brought planning for national balloting to a standstill.
The Feb. 27 date appeared to have the most support from Iraq’s elections commission after Monday’s discussions, though other dates remained on the table, said Qassim al-Aboudi, a senior election commission official. He said the commission would make a recommendation as early as Monday afternoon to the president’s office, which must approve any change in election dates.
The White House applauded the vote, which the U.S. hopes will ease the eventual withdrawal of American troops. In a statement issued Sunday evening, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the agreement “a decisive moment for Iraq’s democracy.” But the postponed election could complicate withdrawal timetables for the U.S. military, which is keeping the bulk of its 120,000 troops in place because of a possible rise in violence surrounding the voting.
The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, had ordered the bulk of the withdrawal to begin 60 days after January balloting. It was unclear whether Odierno has adjusted the order with elections now likely to be postponed.
The U.S. military did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.
President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of all combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving up to 50,000 troops in advisory roles. Under an Iraqi-U.S. security agreement, those remaining troops would leave by the end of 2011. Though U.S. officials have said publicly the pullout remains on track, privately there have been concerns raised about a possible bottleneck during the withdrawal if the bulk of troops are held until late spring or early summer.