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Iraq presidential council sends provincial elections measure back to parliament for reworking

Iraq presidential council sends provincial elections measure back to parliament for reworking

Iraq's presidential council rejected a measure Wednesday setting up provincial elections, sending it back to parliament in the latest setback to U.S.-backed national reconciliation efforts.
The three-member panel, however, approved the 2008 budget and another law that provides limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. Those laws will take effect once they are published in the Justice Ministry gazette.
The three laws were approved as a package by the Iraqi parliament on Feb. 13, drawing praise from the Bush administration, which had sought passage of a provincial powers law as one of 18 benchmarks to promote reconciliation among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and the large Kurdish minority.
"No agreement has been reached in the Presidency Council to approve the provincial elections draft law and it has been sent back to the parliament to reconsider the rejected articles," the presidential council said in a statement.
The panel is composed of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.
Abdul-Mahdi is a senior official in the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the country's largest Shiite party. He objected to the measure and was supported by the Kurds, according to lawmakers who attended the council meeting where the elections law was discussed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The sticking point was control of the provincial governor's offices. A provision in the measure allows the Iraqi prime minister to fire a provincial governor, but Abdul-Mahdi's bloc wants that power to rest with the provincial councils, or legislatures, where his party has a strong base of support around the country, the lawmakers said.
Naseer al-Ani, a spokesman for the presidential council, refused to say who objected to the measure.
"There are some items in this law that contradict the constitution, such as the governor and how to sack him," he said. "There is an objection and it is constitutional. The Presidency Council has the right to object."
The elections measure was only the second of the U.S. benchmarks to make it through parliament.
A bill that allows lower-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to reclaim government jobs became law earlier this year, but Sunnis have demanded amendments and the future of the measure is unclear.
The White House said that it does not believe this set back for the provincial election law has dealt a fatal blow to the measure. White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration would have liked the law to move forward without complications, but added: "This is democracy at work."
Some Iraqi lawmakers vented their displeasure, however.
"This is a disappointment to us. We expected that all the three laws would be approved together," said Khalid al-Attiya, the Shiite deputy parliament speaker. "It will take us a long time and new agreements now to pass the law."
It took weeks of wrangling for the Iraqi parliament to pass the three laws the presidential council reviewed, finally doing so in a single bundle so that none of the three groups would feel double-crossed. Even then, parliamentary speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani had to break an 82-82 tie to get the measure through on the last day of the legislature's session.
The budget and the amnesty measure become law with the presidential council's approval. It does not appear possible for lawmakers to revisit them when they return from a five-week break March 18.
"We are annoyed with the fact that the party affiliations in the Presidency Council have overcome Iraq's national interests," said Saleh al-Aujaili, a lawmaker from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's faction. "The members of the Presidency Council should study the laws as representatives of the Iraqi people, not their own parties."
He said any measure rejected by the council needs a two-thirds majority approval in parliament to pass the second time through, making it difficult for the nation to hold provincial elections on Oct. 1, as set out in the measure.