U.S., U.N. present proposals to end Iraq vote impasse

BAGHDAD Wed Nov 25, 2009 10:05am EST

Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi attends the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Sharm el-Sheikh July 15, 2009. REUTERS/Khaled El Fiqi/Pool

Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi attends the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Sharm el-Sheikh July 15, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled El Fiqi/Pool

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and U.N. officials have proposed solutions to Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president to stop him vetoing for a second time a law needed for an election to take place next year, an official said on Wednesday.

Seen as a milestone for Iraq's fledgling democracy as it emerges from sectarian war set off by the 2003 U.S. invasion, the vote is likely to be delayed past its due date in January, possibly affecting U.S. plans for a partial pullout next year.

The proposals to resolve the impasse involve a mechanism for satisfying Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's demands for a greater representation in the next parliament for Iraqis abroad, many of whom are Sunnis, said his spokesman. Using such a mechanism would avoid having to change the electoral law.

"We say that if the mechanism is fair and applicable, not just a formality, and ensures a fair vote for all Iraqis abroad and does not deprive any province of seats, then the law with this mechanism will be accepted," said Abdul Elah Kadhum, a spokesman for Hashemi's office.

Hashemi, one of three members of a presidential council with the power to veto legislation, rejected an initial electoral law that parliament had spent weeks negotiating.

Rather than address his complaint that refugees who fled abroad after the U.S. invasion would not get enough seats, Shi'ite and Kurdish lawmakers in parliament joined forces to approve a new law this week that reduces Sunni representation.

It took seats from Sunni areas and gave them to Kurdish provinces in what lawmakers said was slight to Hashemi.

The move laid bare again the faultlines in Iraqi society that led to warfare between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shi'ites, potentially inflaming sectarian tensions just as Iraq appears to be on a path to greater security and stability.

"FULL RESPONSIBILITY"

The U.S. ambassador, Chris Hill, and officials from the U.N. mission in Iraq, were among the visitors to Hashemi's office making the proposals for a mechanism and lobbying for a resolution to the impasse, Kadhum said.

Representatives of Iraq's Shi'ite majority also visited the vice president backing the suggested mechanism, he said.

Even if the amended law were not vetoed, it is likely too late now to stage an election before the constitutional deadline of end-January, electoral authorities have said.

"The ball is not now in parliament's court. It is in the court of the presidency council and especially Hashemi. Hashemi must take full responsibility for his decision," said Omar al-Mashhadani, secretary of parliament speaker Ayad al-Samarai.

Some fellow Sunnis, meanwhile, appeared to be ganging up on Hashemi, whose political profile had been slipping before he shot back into the limelight with the veto.

Rashid al-Azawi, a Sunni lawmaker with the Iraqi Islamic Party to which Hashemi used to belong, said colleagues had tried to persuade the vice president not to exercise his veto powers.

"He made a mistake. He must have the courage to admit it and to apologize, especially to the provinces which have suffered damage," he said.

(Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Alison Williams)

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