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IRAQ: Electoral reform thwarted

February 27, 2008 |  9:11 am


Iraqi politicians on Wednesday threw a wrench into U.S. plans to correct a major imbalance in the nation's political institutions. The three-member presidency council sent back to parliament for reconsideration a law that was meant to pave the way for a new round of provincial elections.

Sunni Arabs and other political groups largely boycotted the last round of local elections in January 2005. As a result, Shiite Muslim factions dominate provincial governments. Sunnis argue that the Shiites now have more local power than their numbers merited, dominating provincial governments in places such as Diyala province, which are mostly Sunni.

U.S. military and political officials in Washington and Baghdad had long pushed for a new election law and touted parliament's recent approval of the measure as a major step for Iraq.

Now it looks like the elections, which were set for Oct. 1, are again imperiled.

The Bush administration downplayed the setback. "This is democracy at work," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

The reasons for Presidency Council's rejection of the law were unclear.

The Shiite political party led by cleric Abdelaziz Hakim, along with Iraq's Kurds, were the main groups opposed to the current law. Hakim's party has long dominated the provincial governments of southern Iraq and is nervous about the prospect of an electoral challenge by the followers of rival Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr.

Borzou Daragahi in Baghdad

Photo: Sgt. Richard Courtney, of the Army 2-1 Cavalry and of Louisiana, stands by a burning brush in Diyala province. It is a violent area where U.S. officials hope new provincial elections will ease political reconciliations between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images