BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraq’s election commission chairman said Wednesday that he has warned lawmakers that if they do not have an agreement in place on an election law by the end of Thursday, the country’s nationwide vote in January will have to be delayed.
Faraj al-Haidari told The Associated Press that he had informed the parliament speaker late Tuesday in writing that if the law is not approved by Thursday’s end, it will be impossible to carry out the vote January 16.
“We informed the Parliament that if the election law is not legislated within 48 hours it would be difficult and impossible to carry out elections on the 16th of January, so they will be obliged to extend the date,” al-Haidari said.
Iraqi lawmakers have been struggling over a compromise on the election law needed to carry out the vote. The key sticking point is the issue of who should be allowed to vote in Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in the north claimed by both Kurds and Arabs.
Any election day delay could, in turn, disrupt American plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, now scheduled to ramp up after the vote.
Kurds consider Kirkuk a Kurdish city and want it part of their self-ruled region. But the Arab-led central government vehemently opposes anything that would remove Kirkuk from its control.
During the rule of former dictator Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced under a forced plan to make Kirkuk predominantly Arab. Many Kurds have returned since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but other groups claim Kurds have packed more Kurds into the city than before.
A referendum on the city’s future, required by the constitution, has been repeatedly postponed.
The immediate dispute centers on voting rolls, listing who can vote in Kirkuk in the January national election. Kurds generally have favored using a 2009 voter registry, which likely reflects the Kurdish population growth. Arabs generally prefer a 2004 voter registry, when the Kurdish population was not as large in Kirkuk.