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Maliki calls for new local elections

Iraqi is pressured by deadly protests

Antigovernment protests, such as this one Friday in Basra, killed 14 across Iraq and prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take steps to respond to the people’s call for change. Antigovernment protests, such as this one Friday in Basra, killed 14 across Iraq and prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take steps to respond to the people’s call for change. (Nabil Al-Jurani/ Associated Press)
By Hamid Ahmed
Associated Press / March 1, 2011

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BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister called for new provincial elections yesterday after antigovernment protests that killed 14 people last week in a demonstration of the simmering anger many Iraqis feel at an administration they say fails to provide basic services.

Nouri al-Maliki told a reporters he would ask the Parliament to pass a law allowing for the early elections for the councils that rule Iraq’s 18 provinces and said the move was a response to the people’s demands for change.

Elections for control of Iraq’s provinces are held every four years. The last ones were held in 2009 and moving them forward would require parliamentary approval.

The decision already has the support of the Parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi, who said Sunday that he was also proposing such a move.

But its unclear whether there would be enough support within the Parliament to hold the vote early and if so, how quickly a legislative body that took months to pass the last election law would act.

Having just secured a second term as prime minister, Maliki is under intense pressure to show he is addressing the demands of a population angry with a lack of government services, a scarcity of jobs, and rampant corruption.

Thousands of Iraqis protested in at least twelve cities on Friday, many in demonstrations that turned violent, as protesters clashed with authorities, set fire to government buildings, and toppled concrete barriers.

Maliki said the decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting Sunday “to discuss people’s demands calling for reforms.’’ He did not specify how quickly the provincial elections should be held.

Maliki also called on Parliament to dissolve many local city councils in towns and districts where members are appointed and not elected.

The prime minister also raised the specter that the upcoming Arab League summit slated to take place at the end of March in Baghdad for the first time in years could be delayed. But he said he was optimistic the summit would still be held and that the Arab League is insisting on holding it in Iraq.

He cautioned, however, that Arab League foreign ministers would meet later this week, and could decide to change the date.

Also yesterday, an Iraqi court convicted a British man and sentenced him to 20 years in prison over the shooting deaths of two contractors, making him the first Westerner convicted in an Iraqi court since the US invasion in 2003.

Danny Fitzsimons, 30, was found guilty in the 2009 fatal shootings of a British and Australian contractor who worked with him and with attempting to kill an Iraqi guard.

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