Rules for oil-rich Kirkuk stall Iraqi election law

Associated Press / October 28, 2009

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BAGHDAD - A long-sought political consensus in Iraq over how to conduct crucial upcoming elections fell apart yesterday over the thorny issue of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, an Iraqi lawmaker said.

The new snag came as an Al Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad Sunday that killed at least 155 people.

Many fear that the political deadlock over the new law will delay elections, now slated for January, and open the door to renewed violence in Iraq after it stepped back from the brink of civil war two years ago.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said an emergency proposal by the nation’s leaders to break the deadlock over the election law had fallen apart over Kirkuk, the fractious northern city split between Arabs and Kurds.

Othman said the vote over the election law would not take place yesterday. There was no information about when the matter would be addressed.

Just one day after the massive security failure in the capital, there had appeared to be quick progress on the election law. With Iraq’s public already angry over the bombing and the resurgence of violence, the politicians appeared to not want to risk further angering people by delaying the elections with their internal wrangling.

On Monday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others agreed on a compromise over voting in Kirkuk as the Shi’ite-dominated government pushed to smooth over differences in the divided Parliament and wrap up the law so elections could proceed on time.

In Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomens, the dispute focuses on whether all the people living there should be allowed to vote in the election.

During the Hussein era, tens of thousands of the city’s Kurds were displaced under a forced plan to make Kirkuk predominantly Arab. Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, many of these Kurds have returned. Now other groups claim there are more Kurds than before - which could sway the vote in their favor and bring Kirkuk and its oil fully under Kurdish control.