Many lawmakers skip Iraq session

One-third are no-shows as parliament reopens

September 06, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi lawmakers returned to work yesterday, some traveling from the Kurdish north, others from the Sunni Arab west and still others from the Shiite south.

More than one-third of the members, however, did not bother to attend.

After a monthlong vacation, the large number of no-shows for the short parliamentary session generated dismay among legislative colleagues and confusion about voting rules.

"No more orphans, no more widows," Mahmoud Mashadani, the Sunni speaker of parliament, declared in front of rows of empty chairs during his opening statements.

During the brief session, legislators in attendance passed a monthlong extension of an emergency law intended to prevent the violence-torn nation from disintegrating into an all-out sectarian blood bath.

"The elected leaders of Iraq are certain that terrorists and murderers will not succeed, no matter how arrogant and insolent they are," Mashadani said.

But the grand rhetoric rang hollow to many Iraqis, who in December proudly held up purple ink-stained fingers after risking their lives to vote.

"During the jihad massacre, they had closed sessions discussing their salaries and bargaining on how many cars they can get," said Ali Abdullah, a 31-year-old Sunni engineer from western Baghdad, referring to recent sectarian bloodshed in the capital. "People were being slaughtered and they were worrying about themselves."

At yesterday's session, which had already been postponed once because so many legislators had not returned from their summer holiday, 180 of the 275 representatives were present.

Legislators have a three-day workweek and are paid $5,000 per month, plus $7,000 in allowances for drivers, guards and other staff members. By comparison, the average monthly salary for a civil servant in Iraq is about $200.

After December elections, Sumaya Ali, a 31-year-old Shiite accountant from Baghdad, was optimistic. But the spiraling lawlessness in the capital is eroding her faith.

"My hope is dying," she said. "The parliament members only think about their salaries, while the situation is very critical in the country."

Alyaa Ahmed, a 38-year-old Shiite mother of four from western Baghdad, said she fears sending her children back to school. Killers regularly dump bodies in the streets of her neighborhood. She said yesterday that she has little time for politicians and that she had missed the televised session from parliament.

"We had no electricity, but even if I had electricity, I wouldn't trouble myself," she said. "They only talk."

"A long time, but with few accomplishments," said Wael Abdul Latif, a lawmaker from the Iraqiya slate, as he described the previous parliamentary session.

During the previous session, legislators passed four minor laws in five months -- two of them concerning government employment.

Latif feared that parliament might again get bogged down in the kind of minutia that troubled previous meetings.

"This is a stage when the parliament must work," the lawmaker said. "The country is flooded with blood."

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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