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Iraqi lawmakers struggle over election law dispute

By Christopher Torchia
Associated Press / November 20, 2009

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BAGHDAD - Iraqi lawmakers will vote tomorrow on how to break a deadlock over a key election law after a vice president vetoed the legislation, causing a crisis that could delay a national vote scheduled for January and change the timetable for an American troop withdrawal.

Iraq’s fractious parliament was looking at two options - sending the same law back to the three-member presidency council, where it is likely to be vetoed again - or amending the law to address the concerns of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.

Parliament can override a second veto with a three-fifths majority, thereby passing a law seen as vital to Iraq’s ability to move toward full sovereignty and political stability after years of bloodshed.

Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, wants the law to allocate more seats to Iraqis living abroad, many of whom are Sunnis who fled the war. The devastating attacks that were so routine in Iraq have become far less common, but Hashemi’s objections reflect how hard it is for Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian factions to reconcile.

Speaker Ayad al-Samarie said yesterday that political blocs agreed to vote after failing to craft an immediate solution to the vice president’s demand. Hashemi’s veto was welcomed by supporters as a legal right and by opponents as an attack on Iraq’s fledgling democracy.

“Basically, we did not find any proposal that enjoys agreement,’’ Samarie said. “So it was decided to resort to voting on the veto of the presidency.’’

The 275-seat parliament could muster the numbers necessary to override a second veto if most Shi’ite and Kurdish lawmakers choose to do so, but that outcome would fail to ease the sense of alienation of many Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arab minority dominated Iraq until the US-led invasion in 2003. A Shi’ite-led government is now in power.