No provincial election law passed in Iraq

Parliament breaks for the summer without acting

August 07, 2008|By Ned Parker and Said Rifai | Ned Parker and Said Rifai,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi parliament broke for summer vacation yesterday without passing a law that would have allowed provincial elections to be held this year, dealing a blow to hopes for bringing alienated Sunni and Shiite voices into the political process any time soon.

The parliament, which tried during a four-day special session to pass the legislation under pressure from the United States and United Nations, could not resolve differences over Kirkuk, an oil-rich mixed area that the Kurds wish to annex to their semiautonomous northern region.

Lawmakers had been set to adjourn last week when they scheduled the special session. But differences among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen over Kirkuk ultimately could not be resolved.

Iraqi politicians, officials and Western diplomats have speculated that the political parties in government were never invested in holding a vote this year - fearing they would lose seats and influence on the provincial level. Senior politicians - including President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni - have been absent from Baghdad in the midst of the round-the-clock negotiations, both citing medical reasons.

The impasse left an uncertain situation in Kirkuk, where last week a suicide bomb and ethnic clashes killed 25 people. The delay also figured to add to frustrations in other mixed provinces, such as Baghdad, Nineveh and Diyala.

In al-Anbar province, Sunni tribes that joined U.S. forces in opposing Islamic extremists have wanted elections so they could try to wrest power from their Sunni rivals in the Iraqi Islamic Party.

The breakdown came amid a banner time for the Shiite-led Iraqi government, which has witnessed falling death rates, successful military campaigns in southern Iraq since the spring and the return to the national government of Iraq's main Sunni political bloc, which had boycotted the Cabinet for a year.

But fighting is still present in Iraq, and the relative calm is fragile.

U.S. military commanders and Iraq experts worry that an unexpected event could set off a cycle of violence among dueling ethnicities and sects.

Efforts to rescue the legislation have gone into overdrive since Sunday, with meetings involving political bloc leaders, the United Nations and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. At one point, President Bush phoned Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in hopes of getting the Kurds to compromise over Kirkuk.

The parliament made a final stab yesterday to bring the law to a vote after approving a $21 billion supplemental budget for the rest of the year. Instead, the parliament opted to reconvene Sept. 9 and to set up a committee to continue negotiations in the short term.

Ned Parker and Said Rifai write for the Los Angeles Times.

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