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Iraq OKs minority quotas on councils

Susman is a Times staff writer.

Iraqi leaders ratified a bill Saturday giving minorities a quota of seats on provincial governing councils, overriding protests by Christian lawmakers who said they had been cheated.

Christians had demanded that the country’s three-member presidency council, which must ratify legislation passed by parliament, veto the bill.

Lawmakers on Monday approved the quota, which gives Christians and three other minorities a total of six reserved seats split among the governing councils in Baghdad, Nineveh and Basra provinces. The United Nations’ special representative in Iraq had recommended 12 minority seats, a number Christian legislators had supported.

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The three councils have a total of 129 members.

In a statement after Saturday’s ratification, the chief of staff for the presidency council, Naseer Ani, said its members had consulted with Vatican representatives and held “extensive discussion” about the bill. They considered the U.N. recommendations but decided to ratify the legislation unchanged, he said.

“This comes as a recognition and respect for the parliament judgment,” Ani said.

The presidency council comprises the president, who is a Kurd, and two vice presidents -- a Shiite Muslim and a Sunni Arab.

Ani said another bill would be presented in the future to guarantee minority rights.

The new law governs only seats to be allotted in provincial elections, which are scheduled to take place by Jan. 31. No date has been set for the vote, which many hope will repair lopsided provincial power structures created by wide-scale boycotts of the 2005 elections. Minorities may still run for additional seats.

Younadam Kanna, a leading Christian lawmaker, said Saturday that if the quota were not changed, the community “will have no choice but to boycott the elections.”

He expressed concern that without greater representation for minorities on some councils, particularly in Nineveh, they would become caught in the middle of the Kurd-Arab power struggle raging in that part of the country.

In October, more than 1,000 Christian families fled Mosul, capital of Nineveh, after Arab-Kurdish tensions fueled anti-Christian violence. Christian residents as well as their leaders variously accused Kurds and Arabs of targeting them.

Under the U.N. proposal rejected by the parliament, Christian parties would have been guaranteed three seats on Nineveh’s 37-seat provincial council, three on Baghdad’s and one on Basra’s. Instead, they got one seat on each of the three councils.

The U.N. also proposed giving Yazidis, another sect, three seats on the Nineveh council, but they got only one. Of the two other groups, Shabaks got one seat in Nineveh, and Sabians got one in Baghdad, as proposed.

Sunni Arabs are vying for power in the Nineveh region against Kurds, and they generally opposed the quota system on grounds that the minority groups could side with Kurds and bolster Kurdish goals to expand their influence and incorporate Mosul in their semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

In a sign that he wants to limit Kurdish aspirations, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki spoke Saturday of the need for a “strong federal state” when the national constitution is revamped. A committee has been working for months on a number of amendments to the document, which Maliki said was drafted in haste in 2005.

In a televised speech, Maliki said the amended document, set to be completed by the end of the year, should put security in the central government’s hands. “This doesn’t mean that the governorates wouldn’t have authority over criminal and citizen issues,” he said.

This could signal new resistance by the central government to demands from Kurdistan leaders that a referendum be held on expanding the Kurdish region. Kurdish security forces have butted heads with Iraqi security forces over boundary lines separating the region from the rest of Iraq.

The most intense standoff occurred in August and September in the eastern region of Khanaqin, with Iraqi forces facing down Kurdish troops during an offensive in the region.

Also Saturday, police in western Anbar province said a car bomb killed at least eight people and wounded seven at a checkpoint west of the city of Ramadi. A police official in Ramadi, the provincial capital, said three of the dead were police officers stationed at the checkpoint and the rest were civilians. Seven other civilians were injured, including three critically.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

Time staff writer Saif Rasheed and special correspondents in Baghdad and Ramadi contributed to this report.


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