July 23, 2008 in Nation/World

Kurdish legislators walk out of Iraq parliament in protest

Kirkuk lawmakers upset over elections
By Ned Parker and Saif Hameed Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD – Kurdish lawmakers walked out of parliament on Tuesday in protest over a vote on conditions for Iraq’s provincial elections that called for ethnic groups to share power in Kirkuk, an oil-rich province that Kurds consider their territory.

The walkout, which included shouting and accusations of a conspiracy against Kurds, appeared to lessen the chances that the elections that U.S. and Iraqi officials hoped would ease tensions among the country’s main ethnic and religious factions would be held this year. No law exists setting out election procedures.

Although the measure Tuesday was passed on a secret ballot, it requires approval by Iraq’s three-member presidential council presided over by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is all but certain to reject the legislation.

The contentious issue was among several points that have delayed a vote on the law that would pave the way for the first local elections since January 2005, when most Sunni Arabs and many Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr boycotted the vote. U.S. officials believe the participation of such groups could go a long way toward offsetting the imbalance in provinces, where a small number of parties, mainly Kurdish and Shiite, have dominated politics.

The election, sought by U.S. officials for more than a year, has stalled amid political competition as parties in the Iraq government have feared a vote could cost them influence. Disagreements have centered on the question of whether voters should be allowed to choose individual candidates or pick from closed party lists. Lawmakers also have argued about whether parties could use religious imagery in the campaign and debated whether parties with links to militias could participate.

The government had aimed to hold the election in October. But the country’s election commission announced over the weekend that the date was unrealistic and that the law needed to be passed by the end of the month if Iraq wanted to hold the elections as late as December.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email