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IRAQ: A January election is now impossible, but talks on a new law make progress

November 26, 2009 |  8:25 am

Election officials said today that it is already too late to hold crucial national elections in January even if a tentative deal on a new interpretation of Iraq's long-stalled election law pans out.

U.S. commanders have pegged the timetable for the withdrawal of American combat troops to a January election, and any delay in the elections could jeopardize the pullout.

The country's squabbling politicians said they are close to an agreement that would avert a second vice presidential veto, head off a major political crisis and allow planning for the election to resume. 

Under the agreement, the election commission would be asked to find a way to distribute the next parliament's 323 seats in such a way that no seats would be lost either by Sunni provinces or by Kurdish ones.

Efforts to hold the poll were plunged into crisis after Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashimi vetoed the original version of the law.

Then, parliament approved an amended version of the law that would in effect take seats away from Sunni provinces and give them to Kurdish ones, prompting Hashimi to threaten a second veto and wrecking hopes that the election could be held on time.

Hashimi's spokesman Abdul Elah Kadhim said that there was still no firm deal, but that talks were progressing on the right track, toward a way of interpreting the amended law so that no seats from Sunni provinces would be lost. "Otherwise, the vice president will insist on vetoing the law again," he said.

He said the vice president would announce his decision next week.

But even if a second veto is averted, election commissioner Hamdia Husseini said a January election is now impossible.

"The earliest we could have it now is February," she said. "And that's optimistic."

U.S. officials have said that some slippage in the election date wouldn't make a big difference to the pullback plan. But Iraq's constitution stipulates that the poll must be held by January, so a delay will require some constitutional tinkering, which could set a dangerous precedent.

-- Liz Sly and Raheem Salman in Baghdad

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