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Ethnic infighting likely to doom January elections in Iraq

BAGHDAD — Iraq's crucial national elections, originally scheduled for January, on Monday appeared likely to be delayed by weeks, if not longer, as political wrangling between ethnic groups doomed hopes for a compromise on the required election law.

The delay could threaten the Obama administration's hopes for a speedy drawdown of the 115,000 U.S. troops still in the country. Military planners have pegged the withdrawal to the completion of the elections.

Last week, Vice President Tareq al Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim, vetoed one version of the election law, complaining that it under-represented Iraqis living abroad, most of whom are believed to be Sunnis who fled during the ethnic violence that raged after U.S. troops toppled the government of Saddam Hussein.

On Monday, Kurds and Shi’ite Muslim politicians responded to Hasehmi's veto by passing an amended version of the law that cut Sunni Muslim voting power even more in several major provinces.

More than 50 parliament members walked out in protest, most of them Sunnis, but including a smattering of secular lawmakers and Shiites as well.

Many predicted that Hashemi would again use his power as a member of Iraq's three-person Presidency Council and again veto the legislation.

"I believe that the amended law will be vetoed by the vice president again and this will cause more delay and a higher possibility that there will be a constitutional void" and a government in limbo, said Osama al Nijaifi, a lawmaker from the secular Iraqia list.

Sunnis were even more outraged.

“I mourn for the Iraqi people today the death of the constitution, and the death of justice,” said lawmaker Ezz al Deen al Dawla, from the main Sunni bloc.

The breakdown underscores how sectarian politics still domiante Iraq, despite the security improvements of the last two years.

President Barack Obama is hoping to remove all U.S. combat forces from the country by August 2010. Under a U.S.-Iraq agreement, all troops must depart by the end of 2011.

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent. Strobel reported from Kirkuk, Iraq. Mohammed al Dulaimy also contributed.)

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