In Iraq, voting issues remain on table

Times Staff Writer

With time running out to organize provincial balloting slated for the fall, representatives of Iraq’s main political blocs agreed Sunday to submit a draft election law for a vote this week with key questions left undecided.

Among the issues in contention are whether to allow voting in the disputed city of Kirkuk, which ethnic Kurds hope to include in their semiautonomous region to the north, and whether to permit the use of religious images in campaigning.

Parliament will be asked to choose between several provisions when it votes Tuesday on the bill setting out procedures for the election, said Kareem Yaqoubi, a Shiite Muslim member of the legislature’s Regions and Provinces Committee.

But even if a law is approved, U.N. officials have warned that it may be too late to hold the polls by the scheduled date of Oct. 1.


United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura has said it may not even be possible to vote this year, unless the bill is finalized this month. Legislators agreed to delay their summer recess until July 30 in a bid to resolve the matter.

At a meeting Sunday, the committee decided to give parliament the option of allowing voting in Kirkuk and the surrounding Tamim province for a 32-member council in which 10 seats each would be reserved for Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens and two for Christians. The other option would be to postpone voting until the future of the oil-rich city is decided, Yaqoubi said.

On the campaigning question, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s administration is seeking to prevent a repetition of the widespread use of images of Iraq’s revered religious figures that occurred during the 2005 elections. It has recommended that only the candidates’ pictures be allowed in campaign advertising.

Another option before parliament would be to prohibit only pictures of the official Shiite Muslim leadership, known as the marjaiyah. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s supreme Shiite religious leader, has already warned parties not to use his name or image in their campaigning.

Parliament will also have the option of allowing the use of all religious images.

Yaqoubi said the committee accepted the Cabinet’s recommendation to amend balloting procedures to give voters the option of selecting individual candidates, rather than an entire slate, as in 2005. A third of the seats will be reserved for women, he said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials hope the provincial polls will help resolve local power disputes that threaten to undermine security gains. Violence in Iraq has dropped to its lowest level since 2004, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. military. But sporadic attacks continue.

On Tuesday, gunmen killed two people and injured three near Duluiya, 55 miles north of Baghdad. There were conflicting accounts of the incident.

The U.S. military said the attack happened during a soccer game and a 9-year-old was among the wounded. The dead included an Iraqi officer and a member of a guard force hired by U.S. troops to help secure the region, the military said in a statement. Another guard was injured.

Iraqi police in Duluiya said the gunmen attacked a checkpoint run by policemen and the neighborhood guards. The Interior Ministry said the attack occurred in a game hall with table tennis and pool tables. Neither mentioned a soccer game.

West of Baghdad, security officials said two bombs exploded this morning in front of a police officer’s home in Fallouja, killing three policemen and injuring four people.


Times staff writer Saif Hameed in Baghdad and special correspondents in Ramadi and Cairo contributed to this report.