Iraq's parliament passes poll law, Kurds walk out
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament passed a provincial elections bill on Tuesday, but a walkout by Kurdish lawmakers over how to deal with the disputed oil city of Kirkuk could mean the law will not be ratified by the presidency.
Kurds make up one of three main groups, and their boycott of the vote means the bill could be sent back to parliament.
The law is meant to pave the way for polls seen as vital to reconciling Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005, with its other communities.
"Today parliament passed the provincial elections law, in the absence of the Kurdish alliance, which walked out," Hanin Qado, a lawmaker from the ruling Shi'ite alliance, told Reuters.
Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Khalid al-Attiya cast doubt on whether a law passed without the Kurds present would even be ratified by Iraq's presidency council -- which must approve all laws -- headed by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
"We cannot have a vote with an absence of a whole faction. The vote is useless. It will be rejected by the representatives of this bloc and by the presidency council," he said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wants the election to take place on October 1, but the Electoral Commission says it will not have time to organize it by then, even with the law in place.
Faraj al-Haidari, head of the commission, told Reuters on Tuesday he could not start implementing the election law until it was approved by the presidency council.
He reiterated a warning that time was running out to hold polls this year, because the commission needed time to prepare.
The law had been held up by a dispute over what to do about voting in multi-ethnic Kirkuk, where a dispute is simmering between Kurds who say the city should belong to the largely autonomous Kurdistan region and Arabs who want it to stay under central government authority.
Arabs and Turkmen believe Kurds have stacked the city with Kurds since the downfall of Saddam in 2003 to try to tip the demographic balance in their favor in any vote.
Arabs encouraged to move there under Saddam Hussein's rule fear the vote will consolidate Kurdish power and they sought to postpone it, a proposal Kurdish politicians have rejected.
Parliament decided to postpone the vote and add another article that the Kurds found unacceptable: that each ethnic or sectarian group gets a set allocation of seats and voting is between individual candidates from those groups. Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen get 10 seats each. Minority Christians get two.
"We walked out because of the illegality of this article and because the speaker wanted a secret vote, which is not constitutional," said Fouad Masoum, head of the Kurdish bloc.
Washington has been urging a speedy provincial election, which it sees as a pillar of national reconciliation, but the poll is also proving a potential flashpoint for tensions.
Besides Kirkuk, analysts say the poll will be battleground for a power struggle between Shi'ites in the oil-rich south.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Writing by Tim Cocks)
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