Iraqi Election Plans In Limbo After Veto Of Key Law

Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president i i

Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, speaks Wednesday during a press conference in Baghdad about the upcoming elections. Hashemi vetoed part of a key election law, throwing national polls slated for January and a planned U.S. troop drawdown into question. Karim Kadim/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Karim Kadim/AP
Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president

Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, speaks Wednesday during a press conference in Baghdad about the upcoming elections. Hashemi vetoed part of a key election law, throwing national polls slated for January and a planned U.S. troop drawdown into question.

Karim Kadim/AP

A top Iraqi official vetoed the country's election law Wednesday, throwing the government's plans to hold parliamentary elections in January into disarray.

The move could unravel a delicate series of compromises that took months to negotiate, and it could complicate U.S. efforts to withdraw American combat troops.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi made good on his threat to veto the election law Wednesday morning.

Hashemi said he was objecting to only one part of the law, arguing that it didn't give fair representation to the millions of Iraqis living outside the country. He noted that during the 2005 election, those expatriate Iraqis were represented by 45 seats in parliament.

The new law drops that number to seven. It's a crucial issue for Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim, because most of the displaced people are Sunnis.

Hashemi said he thinks parliament can quickly remedy the issue and pass a new law in time for elections to be held in January. But that may not be so easy.

Many Shiites in parliament believe that those expatriate Sunnis are former members of the Baath Party who supported dictator Saddam Hussein.

Baha al-Arraji, a member of the bloc affiliated with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, says more seats for Iraqis living abroad would mark the return of Baath Party influence in Iraq.

Hashemi isn't the only one who is unhappy with the allocation of seats in parliament. While many Arab parts of Iraq will get significantly more seats, ethnic Kurdish representation barely increased at all. Out of 48 additional seats in the new parliament, Kurds will get only three.

The move so angered Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish region's president, that he threatened to boycott the elections.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament, says the seat allocation among Iraqi provinces is "not just, not equal." There is "a lot of imbalance in it. It's not possible," he says.

Once debate on the election law reopens, these simmering resentments could come into play.

The delay could affect U.S. plans for a smooth withdrawal from Iraq, set to begin in 2010. When President Obama hailed the passage of the law on Nov. 8, he cited that point specifically.

"This agreement advances the political progress that can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq, and allow for the orderly and responsible transition of American combat troops out of Iraq by next September," he said.

U.S. officials have said that if the security situation in Iraq is stable, they can begin withdrawing troops 60 days after the election.

Iraq's Constitution calls for a new parliament to be elected by the end of January, when the current government's mandate expires. Even a few more days of parliamentary delay could mean that election officials won't be able to meet that deadline.

The independent election commission said Wednesday that it has suspended all its activities until the election law has been sorted out.

The result could be a constitutional crisis — a government with no legal authority. But Iraqi parliamentarian Younadim Kanna, a Christian, says there may be a way to avoid that.

"The president or prime minister or 50 members of parliament have the right to extend for one month if you have some essential problem to be solved," Kanna says.

The Iraqi parliament will start confronting that essential problem Thursday.

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