Iraqis set elections for Jan. 23 after weeks of rancor

BAGHDAD — After nearly a dozen delays and a final, rowdy session, Iraq's parliament on Sunday passed an election law setting up national elections for January and averting for now a political crisis that threatened to unravel the country's slow progress toward stability.

Approval of the law eases a growing source of concern for the Obama administration. President Barack Obama is considering sending 34,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and successful elections here are key to a major reduction in U.S. combat forces in Iraq by next summer.

The law seeting the elections, now scheduled for Jan. 23, had been held up by an explosive dispute over the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, where both Arabs and Kurds claim a majority.

Iraqi lawmakers reached a temporary compromise on that issue, but it remains a source of deep division in this multiethnic country. And the threat of violence hangs over the election following spectacular suicide bombings in Baghdad in August and October.

Still, Iraqi and U.S. officials expressed relief Sunday.

“This is good news. This is an achievement for all Iraqis, and for the political process,” said Sadiq al rikabi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

In a joint statement, U.S. ambassador Chris Hill and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S. forces here, congratulated the Iraqis.

“With the passage of this law, the Iraqi people, through their representatives, have shown their desire to uphold democratic and consultative government,” they said.

Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.