Iraq's presidency agrees to provincial-elections law

BAGHDAD — Iraq's presidency council has agreed to approve a long-delayed law that will allow most of the country to hold provincial elections early next year, officials said Friday.

Iraq's parliament passed the elections law late last month after months of infighting, and approval from Iraq's three-man presidency council, which includes Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and two deputies, is the last formal hurdle the measure must clear to take effect.

A staff aide to Tariq al Hashimi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, told McClatchy that all three members of the presidency council agreed to sign off on the law though the council has yet to officially sign the measure.

He added, however, that the council will ask parliament to reinstate a provision of the law guaranteeing representation for Christians and other Iraqi minorities. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

The council will formally sign the elections agreement into law after the end of Eid, a three-day holiday that Iraq's Muslims are now observing, the aide said.

An adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said the prime minister is aware of the presidency council's decision. "We heard the same thing, that they have agreed to approve the law," said Sadiq al Rikabi.

No one from the presidency council could be reached for comment Friday.

The elections law is seen as a key step toward bringing under-represented groups back into Iraqi politics, particularly Sunnis in Anbar province who have recently turned against violence and al Qaida extremists.

The U.S. and the United Nations have been urging Iraqi politicians for months to agree on a law, hoping that holding elections soon will help solidify recent, fragile security gains here.

A contentious debate over who will control Kirkuk, an oil-rich northern city, was the main sticking point delaying an agreement. Legislators have yet to resolve that issue. They tabled it until next year to allow elections to move forward everywhere but Kirkuk.

Once the presidency council signs the law, elections to choose provincial and local leaders across the rest of Iraq can move forward. Parliament set a deadline to hold the elections by the end of January, and U.N. officials who will organize the vote have vowed the country will be able to meet that deadline.

Christians and other minorities in Iraq have protested parliament's decision to remove from the elections law the provision guaranteeing seats for minorities.

(Reilly reports for the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star. Al Dulaimy and Issa are McClatchy special correspondents.)


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