Iraq's fractious Parliament agreed to a compromise paving the way
for legislative elections early next year after an 11th-hour phone
call from President Obama to a top Kurdish leader removed remaining
objections to a deal.
Minutes before a midnight deadline to approve the amended law,
lawmakers who had been arguing in conference rooms and around
cafeteria tables voted in the Parliament chamber to approve an
election law placed in jeopardy when it was vetoed by Iraq's Sunni
vice president three weeks ago.
The uncertainty over whether it would pass sent US and UN
diplomats into a tailspin, with US Ambassador Christopher Hill
rushing back from Washington and the United Nations special
representative Ad Melkert trying to bridge Sunni and Kurdish
"The US role was monumental. They brought everyone together,"
says Krikor Derhegopian, an advisor to Vice President Tariq al-
Hashemi, whose veto sparked the latest crisis. He says the elections
could likely be held on Feb. 27, the latest date suggested by UN
Obama's call and the US diplomacy was a stark reminder that as
the US withdraws militarily from iraq, it remains engaged in almost
every part of the political process.
Every seat crucial in elections
The finalized election law addresses a key concern raised by Mr.
Hashemi's veto: that several million Iraqis living outside Iraq were
not being adequately represented. A majority of those who fled Iraq
during the worst of the sectarian fighting over the last six years
are believed to be Sunni. The amended law allows their votes to
count in their original home districts, many of them Sunni areas.
Sunni Arab Iraqis boycotted the 2005 elections in protest against
what they consider a US-backed, Shiite-dominated political process.
US efforts to bring them back into the political system to improve
the prospects for stability has left the Kurds, traditional US
allies, feeling sidelined.
A 90-minute conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden last
month failed to budge Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani's
objections to the election law or lift a Kurdish threat to boycott
the vote. The Kurds believe that the original figures used by
election authorities, which show increased population in Shiite and
Sunni areas but none in Kurdistan, were a deliberate attempt to
limit their influence.
Iraqi political players involved in the negotiations say Kurdish
officials have been in virtual seclusion in the north for more than
a week. But Obama's phone call to Mr. Barzani Sunday night promising
to support the resolution of key issues next year, including a
census and the status of the disputed city of Kirkuk, appeared to
have sealed the deal.
The law passed Sunday gives the Kurds three more seats than the
law vetoed by Mr. Hashemi, but fewer than the Kurds had demanded.
With the next Parliament facing crucial questions such as Kirkuk
and revenue sharing, every seat could help influence the outcome. …