BAGHDAD – Iraqi lawmakers approved plans Sunday to hold parliament elections early next year that are seen as an important step toward political reconciliation and easing the pullout of U.S. troops.
The vote – during an emergency session convened just before a midnight deadline – followed marathon talks by political leaders to break an impasse over balloting provisions that would satisfy the nation’s rival groups.
A failure to pass new elections rules on Sunday would have forced Iraq to revert to those used in its last parliament election in 2005 and likely throw the political process into a tailspin.
Plans for the election had been mired for weeks over Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s demands for a greater political voice for minority Sunnis and the distribution of seats in Iraq’s expanded 325-seat parliament. The full details of the pact were not immediately clear. But it appeared to resolve objections from al-Hashemi, who had held up the elections for weeks with a veto to demand equal voting rights for Iraqis living abroad – mostly fellow Sunnis whose votes could increase Sunni clout in the next parliament.
Kurds also had objected to the distribution of seats among the country’s 18 provinces, claiming they were being under-represented at the expense of Sunnis and majority Shiites, who suffered widespread repression under Saddam Hussein but took command of Iraqi’s political leadership and security forces after his fall.
The new parliament will be expanded from the current 275 seats to 325, said Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al-Attiyah. At least 15 seats are set aside for religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians and Turkomen.
In an apparent concession to the Kurds, some seats that had been shifted to Sunni areas were returned, said al-Attiyah. Kurds, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, also received two of the special minority seats for Christian Kurds.