By Waleed Ibrahim
BAGHDAD, July 12 (Reuters) - A dispute over the Iraqi city Kirkuk is again holding up legislation needed for the country to hold vital post-war elections, this time parliamentary polls due in January, lawmakers said on Sunday.
Combustible as ever, the row over the status of Kirkuk, an ethnically divided, oil-producing city 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, is now seen as the leading long term threat to Iraq’s stability as sectarian violence dies down.
Months of wrangling over Kirkuk held up a law needed to pave the way for provincial polls that took place in January. The legislation was only passed when parliamentarians agreed to shelve the city’s provincial vote until the row is sorted out.
Kurds claim Kirkuk as their historic capital and want to attach it, with other disputed territories, to their largely autonomous Kurdistan region — an idea rejected by the city’s Arab and Turkman residents as well as Iraq’s Baghdad government.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said this week he wanted Kirkuk’s provincial elections out the way before parliamentary polls, but that not enough headway has been made on the issue.
Now legislators say Kirkuk is grinding to a halt a bill for the general election.
Speaker Ayad al-Samarai told journalists Kurds want Kirkukis to vote just like residents in any other province, but Arab and Turkmen legislators rejected that in Sunday’s session.
They want Kirkuk to be made a special case, with each ethnic group in the city a set seat allocation.
Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen would each have two seats and Assyrian Christians one. Competition would then be between individuals within each ethnic group. Kurds, who reckon themselves dominant, won’t have that.
"I don’t know how the council of representatives (parliament) will solve this. But I believe if they fail to pass a new law for the coming election, there will be no other option but to go with the old one, which is still valid," Samarai said.
Sunni Arab Kirkuk lawmaker Omar al-Jubouri told Reuters no one wanted the old law, so Samarai’s remarks could be taken as a threat to pressure them to make compromises.
The old law has disadvantages, not least that it dictates a closed list system, where voters choose parties or coalitions rather than individual candidates. That system has tended to favour voting along ethno-sectarian lines.
Iraq used an open list system for the provincial elections.
The Kurds want to reverse Saddam’s policy of "Arabisation" in Kirkuk, which involved expelling thousands of Kurds.
The city’s Arabs now complain the pendulum has swung the other way, with the Kurdish government deliberately stacking the city with Kurds and intimidating its Arab minority, so any voting in Kirkuk would not be a fair representation.
Usama al-Nujaifi, a lawmaker from the Iraqiya party of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said a few options were open but the most realistic was simply to exempt Kirkuk from the parliamentary vote for now, as was done in the provincials. (Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jon Boyle)