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Today, plans by the Iraqi government to hold January elections were thrown into disarray. A top official vetoed the country's election law. The move could unravel a delicate series of compromises that took months to negotiate and it could complicate plans to withdraw American combat troops.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Baghdad.
COREY FLINTOFF: Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi made good on his threat to veto the election law this morning.
Vice President TARIQ AL-HASHEMI (Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: Hashemi said he was objecting to only one part of the law, saying 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 says 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.
Mr. BAHA AL-ARRAJI: (Foreign language spoken)
FLINTOFF: That's Baha al-Arraji, a Shiite and a member of the bloc affiliated with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Arraji says more seats for displaced Sunni Iraqis would only benefit former members of the Ba'ath party who supported dictator Saddam Hussein.
Other Iraqi groups were also unhappy with the way seats were allocated in parliament under the law that's just been vetoed. While many Arab parts of Iraq will get significantly more seats, Kurdish representation barely increased at all. That so angered Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani that he threatened to boycott the elections.
Mahmoud Othman is a Kurdish member of parliament.
Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Kurdish Member of Parliament): Seat allocation between government is not just - not equal. There are a lot of imbalance in it. It's not possible.
FLINTOFF: Once debate on the election law reopens, a lot of these simmering resentments could come into play. The delay could impact U.S. plans for a smooth withdrawal from Iraq. When President Obama hailed the passage of the law on November 8th, he cited the link between elections and the U.S. withdrawal.
President BARACK OBAMA: 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.
FLINTOFF: 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 today 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.
Mr. YOUNADIM KANNA (Parliament Member, Iraqi National Assembly): President or prime minister or speaker or 50 MPs has right to postpone or to extend the term for one month if you have some essential problem to be solved.
FLINTOFF: The Iraqi parliament will start confronting that essential problem tomorrow.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.
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