November 9, 2009 / 11:57 AM / in 9 years

Iraq election set for January 21 after new law passed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqis will vote in a general election on January 21 now that parliament has passed a law needed for a vote to take place, the head of the country’s electoral commission said on Monday.

Abbas al-Bayati (C), a Turkmen member of the Iraqi parliament, speaks to the media after voting on an election law at the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad November 8, 2009. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen

The ballot was originally set for January 16, but electoral authorities said the delay in passing the law had made it impossible to organize by then. Parliament ended weeks of disagreement about the fate of the disputed city of Kirkuk and passed the electoral law on Sunday.

Faraj al-Haidari, head of the electoral commission, told Reuters that the new date of January 21 needed to be approved by a presidency council of President Jalal Talabani and two vice-presidents.

“I don’t think that date will change,” he said.

Prolonged arguing over the law had cast doubt on the U.S. military’s plans to end combat operations in Iraq by August 31, 2010, ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

The election law had been held up by disagreement over how to conduct the vote in Kirkuk, a northern city that is surrounded by oilfields.

Investor sentiment was bolstered by parliament’s passage of the ballot law, but the failure to resolve the issue of Kirkuk may cause massive headaches in the long run.

Kirkuk is viewed by ethnic Kurds as their ancient capital, and they want to make it part of their northern region. Kurdish leaders wanted to use up-to-date voter rolls in the election to reflect an increase in their numbers there since 2003, the year the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Arabs and Turkmen say the city should remain under central government authority and believe Kurds have deliberately tipped the demographic balance. They sought to use older voter records or guarantee scrutiny of the current voter registrations.

The law used current records but made the election results subject to a review if there were an unusual increase in registered voters in the past five years. The consequences of a possible review were not spelled out.

Haidari said the next parliament would have 323 seats compared with 275 now to take account of an increase in population since the last election in 2005.

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