Iraqis Fail To Agree on Election Law

Despite what is reported as "intense pressure" from the United States, the Iraqi parliament has adjourned for the month without passing an enabling law that would allow for provincial elections in the fall.

The New York Times:

The decision to go on vacation rather than settle the issue underscored how little progress had been made on the most important recent political question to confront Iraqi leaders, in contrast to the military strides in making Iraq safer than it had been in years. The law was seen as so important to prevent new outbreaks of violence that President Bush, eager to leave office claiming lasting progress in Iraq, had called several Iraqi lawmakers urging them to pass it.

The elections would be the first provincial balloting in almost four years. Negotiations broke down over the politically explosive issue of who controls the ethnically mixed and oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk. The last elections were boycotted by many Sunni Muslims, the minority in Iraq who held power for decades under Saddam Hussein and were the prime engine for the deadly insurgency during this war.

They have since largely renounced violence through groups of citizens' patrols known broadly as Awakening Councils - and are eager to translate their role in creating relative calm into political power. Awakening leaders were thus the most upset at Parliament's failure to pass the election law.

The stumbling block of Kirkuk features clashing ambitions between ethnic rather than religious groups. Kirkuk has a large minority Turkmen population in addition to the Kurds and Arabs. The Kurds claim the region outright while the Arabs and Turkmen want a share of the oil revenue. Parliament is stuck between doing what's best for reconciliation and acceding to the powerful Kurdish bloc.

There were hopes that this rift could be avoided given the excellent political progress in other areas in recent months including passing the vital Baathification law and an amnesty - both agreements largely affecting Sunnis.

But it appears more horse trading will be required before elections can be set. At issue is the drawing of electoral districts but beyond that, the act will largely determine the size of the various blocs in Parliament so each side is fighting tooth and nail to maximize their representation.

Since they must come to agreement, no doubt they eventually will. This is a learning experience for Iraqis and a lesson in how democracy works. These kinds of issues have never been addressed in Iraq so they literally have to make it up as they go along. By definition, this means delays, setbacks, and probably brinksmanship in the fall by one or more parties.

Ambassador Crocker will be walking a minefield as he assists the Iraqis in their efforts to create a stable democracy.

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