Awaiting key bills, Iraq's Parliament adjourns
Recess could fuel opposition among US lawmakers
BAGHDAD -- Iraq's Parliament shrugged off US criticism and adjourned yesterday for a month, as key lawmakers declared there was no point waiting any longer for the prime minister to deliver benchmark legislation that Washington has demanded be put to a vote.
Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani closed the final three-hour session without a quorum present and declared that lawmakers will not reconvene until Sept. 4. That is just 11 days before the top US military and political officials in Iraq must report to Congress on American progress in taming violence and organizing conditions for sectarian reconciliation.
The recess, coupled with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to get the key draft laws before legislators, may nourish growing opposition to the war among US lawmakers, who could refuse to fund it. Critics have questioned how Iraqi legislators could take a summer break while US forces are fighting and dying to create conditions under which important laws could be passed in the service of ending sectarian political divisions and bloodshed.
But in leaving Parliament, many lawmakers blamed Maliki. "Even if we sit next month, there's no guarantee that important business will be done," said Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish legislator. The Parliament had already extended its session by a month, having initially planned a recess for July and August.
"There are Iraqi-Iraqi and Iraqi-American differences that have not been resolved," Othman said of the benchmark legislation. "The government throws the ball in our court, but we say that it is in the government's court and that of the politicians. They sent us nothing" to debate or vote on.
The September reports by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and US commander General David Petraeus are supposed to assess progress by the Iraqi government and its security forces on 18 political and security benchmarks.
Those include a so-called oil law that would set out rules for foreign investment and the fair distribution of revenue to all of Iraq's sects and ethnic groups.
"We gave the government a good chance by continuing to sit in July. We can still return for an emergency session if that's required, but I don't think that this is necessary because the draft legislation is not complete," said Salem Abdullah, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front, the key Sunni bloc in Parliament.
In Washington, the State Department was unusually silent on the matter, declining to criticize the lawmakers for the break.
"There's a lot of work to be done in Iraq," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said. He said the United States would continue to push for work on critical legislation, including pieces like the oil law, during the vacation.
"Whether the Parliament is in session or not, I think we expect that all of Iraq's political leadership is going to be continuing to work on those kinds of issues and work out the kinds of compromises so that when the Parliament does come back into session, there will be something there for them to vote on and them to act on," Casey said.