BAGHDAD -- Using old-fashioned behind-the-scenes politicking, Iraq's parliamentary leaders pushed through three divisive laws yesterday that had been held up for months by bitter maneuvering between factions and, recently, threats to dissolve the legislative body.
The three laws are the 2008 budget, a law outlining the scope of provincial powers - a crucial aspect of Iraq's self-definition as a federal state - and an amnesty that will cover thousands of the detainees held in Iraqi jails.
They were put to a vote as a single package and passed yesterday afternoon.
"The Iraqi Parliament has approved the three laws, and this is the greatest achievement possible for the Iraqi people," said Adnan Dulaimi, the head of the National Accordance Front and a Sunni.
Khalid al-Attiya, the deputy speaker and a Shiite, beamed as he told reporters right after the vote that the laws had passed "unanimously."
Passage of the measures represents a significant achievement for the Iraqi Parliament, which on many days could not muster a quorum.
The approach of voting on the three laws together broke the logjam because it allowed every group to boast that it had a win. Leaders of the blocs - Shiite, Sunni and Kurd - realized that while no one of the laws could pass on its own, together, they offered something for each political constituency. So factions would swallow the measures they liked less in order to get the one they wanted.
The Kurds wanted the budget in its current form, which guarantees the regional government 17 percent of the country's revenues after subtracting the costs of federal ministries that serve the entire country, such as Foreign Affairs and Defense.
The Sunnis wanted the amnesty because about 80 percent of the more than 26,000 detainees in Iraqi jails are Sunnis. About half of all detainees have not been sentenced.
The Shiites want the provincial powers law because they want to be sure that substantial power rests in the hands of the provinces rather than in the central government.
After the laws are approved by the Presidency Council, in this case a pro forma step since all of the political blocs agreed to their passage, they will be published.
The particulars of the laws remained unclear in part because changes were made in the last minutes of the legislative process.
However, embedded in each of the measures are the same problems that created the controversy in the first place.
For instance, on the budget, the size of the Kurdish share has merely been deferred for a year. The 17 percent agreement is only for this year; next year it will be renegotiated, and there is a strong push to reduce their share.
On the provincial powers law, which includes a requirement that elections be held next fall, there are serious problems with the election commission both at the national and provincial level, raising questions about whether a vote will be viewed as fair or merely deepen divisions among and within sects. Worries about that could end up delaying the elections.
And still left out of the political bargain are the newly formed Awakening Councils, which are predominantly Sunni and in many cases represent powerful tribes.
They have taken the lead in fighting extremist Sunni groups, and now their leaders are clamoring for a place at the table. They are outraged that the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is Sunni but has limited grass-roots support, dominates the provincial council in Anbar.
"In Anbar province we want the provincial council disbanded and another one formed, we want elections to be held in March or April and we want the Iraqi Islamic Party to leave the province in 30 days," said Sheikh Ali Hatem, one of the leaders of the Anbar Awakening, who survived a suicide bomb attack earlier this week.
There appeared to be little chance of elections before the fall.