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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 plan for new provincial elections Wednesday in a major blow to one of the key measures aimed at promoting national reconciliation among the country's Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and the large Kurdish minority.
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 White House tried to put the best face on the setback, saying "this is democracy at work."
But the decision to send the so-called provincial powers act back to parliament for reworking just two weeks after it was pushed through the legislative body after weeks of bitter debate reflected the high stakes involved in efforts to redistribute political power five years after the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.
Many Sunnis boycotted the last nationwide elections for the 275-member parliament as well as local officials in January 2005. The vote ushered in representational government for the first time in Iraq's modern history but it also gave majority Shiites and minority Kurds the bulk of power.
The U.S. hopes the new elections, which would be held on Oct. 1 according to the draft measure, will empower the Sunni minority and blunt support for the insurgency.
The main sticking point in Wednesday's decision, however, appeared to have more to do with internal Shiite divisions as the main objection reportedly focused on whether the central government currently led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or local officials will have the right to fire provincial governors.
"There are some items in this law that contradict the constitution, such as the governor and how to sack him," said Nasser al-Ani, a Sunni lawmaker and presidential council spokesman. "There is an objection and it is constitutional. The presidential council has the right to object."
He didn't say who objected. But Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi later said it was his Shiite counterpart Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
"There were some objections from my colleague Adel Abdul-Mahdi on the provincial law, thus the presidency returned it to the parliament for reviewing," he told the U.S.-financed Al-Hurra TV station.
The three-member panel is led by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
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.
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.
The provincial elections and amnesty measures were approved with the US$48 billion budget as a package by the Iraqi parliament on Feb. 13, drawing praise from the Bush administration, which had sought passage of the provincial and amnesty laws as two of 18 benchmarks to promote reconciliation.
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."
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey also said the council's action "is a normal part of the democratic process in Iraq." The U.S., he added, does not think there will be a long delay.
It was unclear how quickly legislators could move on reworking a new draft. The Iraqi parliament is on a five-week holiday through March 18. 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.
"This is a disappointment to us. We expected that all the three laws would be approved together," said Khalid al-Attiyah, the Shiite deputy parliament speaker. "It will take us a long time and new agreements now to pass the law."
A lawmaker from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's faction also criticized the members of the presidential council for putting their party's interests above the nation's.
"The members of the Presidency Council should study the laws as representatives of the Iraqi people, not their own parties," said Saleh al-Aujaili, a lawmaker from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's faction.
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.
Millions of Shiites, meanwhile, thronged the streets of the holy city of Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, as Arbaeen commemorations marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for a revered religious figure reached their peak.
Pilgrims headed to the gathering were targeted again by extremists on Wednesday when a roadside bomb detonated near a bus in Baghdad, killing one traveler.
With the latest fatality, at least 64 people have been slain in assaults this week targeting pilgrims en route to Karbala to honor Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who died in a seventh-century battle near the city.
The chief of the Iraqi Journalists' Union, Shihab al-Timimi, also died Wednesday of wounds suffered in an ambush, described by colleagues as a tragic example of the dangers still faced by the country's journalists. He was 74.
Violence has dropped substantially across Iraq in the last six months as the U.S. has boosted troop levels, former al-Qaida fighters with American backing have switched allegiances and the powerful Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, has declared a cease-fire.
But Wednesday's toll pushed the total number of Iraqi deaths to at least 719, compared with 610 in January, when violence reached a low not seen since the end of 2005.
In a separate development, al-Maliki returned Wednesday from London, where had he traveled for a round of medical tests following a prior check for heart problems, aides said, without providing details of his test results.
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Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-21 19:29 GMT+08:00