Iraq election body seeks vote delay due to law row

BAGHDAD Fri Nov 6, 2009 3:17pm IST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's electoral authorities called on Friday for polls due next January to be delayed after parliament failed once more to agree on how to hold the vote.

If parliament insisted on sticking to the scheduled Jan. 16 date, the electoral commission could not guarantee the ballot would meet international standards due a lack of time for preparation, said the Commission's head Faraj al-Haidari.

"The delay in approving the electoral law has put us in an unenviable position," Haidari told Reuters.

"The delay and the insistence of political leaders not to postpone the election will force us to leave out some of the procedures required, making our preparations incomplete and making them fall short of international standards."

Politicians have squabbled for weeks over a law needed for the election, which will mark a watershed as Iraq emerges from the sectarian carnage triggered by the 2003 invasion and as U.S. forces start to draw down.

The main sticking point is how to conduct voting in the northern city of Kirkuk, viewed by ethnic Kurds as their ancestral home.

Kurds, who want to wrap Kirkuk into their semi-autonomous northern enclave, essentially want the vote there to be based on updated electoral rolls to reflect an increase in the number of Kurds since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The city's Turkmen and Arab residents, some of whom were encouraged to move there by Saddam during a campaign of "Arabisation", fiercely oppose Kurdish aspirations.

The United States has expressed concern about the impasse.

A delay in the election date could affect the U.S. military's plans to end combat operations in August 2010 and pull out all but 50,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by September.

The U.S. commander, General Ray Odierno, wants to maintain a muscular presence in Iraq for 60 days after the election. That period would be crucial in determining if the country was on the path to greater stability or likely to plunge again into chaos.

MULTIPLE DEADLINES

Multiple apparent deadlines for passing the election law have come and gone, while numerous compromises proposed by the United Nations and Iraqi political leaders have been rejected.

The latest proposals may be voted on in parliament on Saturday, according to some lawmakers. However, there was little indication on Friday that Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen representatives had narrowed any of their differences.

Constitutionally, the election needs to be held by the end of January next year. Holding the election in the last week of January is, however, unpalatable to Iraq's majority Shi'ites as that would coincide with religious festivals.

(Additional reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by David Stamp)

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