Iraq’s Presidency Council vetoed a newly approved provincial election bill, casting doubt on the possibility that local elections will be held this year. U.S. officials have identified the vote as pivotal for stabilizing Iraq.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had denounced the measure, siding with fellow Kurds who walked out of parliament Tuesday over a controversial provision that would delay elections in Tamim province and its capital, the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk. and place them under joint control of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, via a quota system.
Talabani and Shiite Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi signed the veto letter. Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi was out of the country, parliament members said. Lawmakers said the bill would come to another vote within the next week, as the sides struggled to meet a deadline for starting preparations to hold the local elections by late December. But the chances for a compromise looked slim as the factions clung to their positions on Kirkuk.
The quarrel goes to the heart of tensions between Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq. Saddam Hussein displaced thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces as part of an “Arabization” plan. Whether the contested lands will join Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region or remain with the rest of Iraq is one of the most explosive issues of the new era. Kurds insist that Kirkuk should be part of Kurdistan.
“The law in its passed form . . . chooses national and sectarian isolation and increases the [religious] fundamentalism,” Talabani said in a statement explaining his reasoning for rejecting the legislation. He warned that the measure “hurt in a major way the national unity.”
Now the bill will be handed back to parliament for another vote. If the Presidency Council rejects the legislation a second time, it will need a three-fifths majority to pass. Shiite lawmaker Qassim Dawood, who is sympathetic to the Kurds, said the sides must reach a compromise, or risk jeopardizing security gains made in the last year.
“It is a fragile status we have now. A delay could affect it negatively,” Dawood said.
Reacting to the veto, the White House urged the Iraqi government to hold the local elections by the end of the year, wires services reported.
The Kurdish parliamentary bloc, with more than 50 members, walked out of Tuesday’s session after parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashadani, a Sunni Arab, endorsed holding a secret ballot on the Kirkuk provision. The Kurds and their Shiite Arab supporters charged that the measure was unconstitutional.
The bill, backed by most Arabs, would delay elections but install a quota system for the provincial council, apportioning seats for Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. The province’s administrative positions would be similarly distributed.
The Kurds dominate the province’s government, largely because of the decision by Sunni Arabs, favored under Hussein, to boycott elections in January 2005 -- a move they now view as a blunder. There also have been accusations that thousands of displaced Kurds have been sent to Kirkuk in an effort to guarantee favorable results in any vote on the province’s future.
Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the Kurds were willing to delay Kirkuk’s election and to divide administrative positions more equitably, but are opposed to a quota system for the provincial council. He said Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party had worked against them on Kirkuk. Hassan Suneid, a senior Dawa member, said the Kurds would have to accept the next round of voting in parliament, as long as the procedures were considered legal.
Suneid added that he walked out of the session because he disagreed with the secret voting.
U.S. officials have pushed for provincial elections in Iraq on the theory they would increase the loyalty of a greater portion of the population by giving Sunni Arabs a say in local government. Critics have charged that the Sunni boycott of the 2005 elections helped escalate the sectarian warfare that has dominated Iraq since.
Times staff writers Caesar Ahmed, Saif Rasheed and Said Rifai contributed to this report.