Iraqi Electoral Law Remains in Limbo Following Baghdad Bombings
By Edward Yeranian
26 October 2009

President Talabani holds meeting for Political Council of National Security at Baghdad's al-Salam Palace, 25 Oct 2009
President Talabani holds meeting for Political Council of National Security at Baghdad's al-Salam Palace, 25 Oct 2009
The Iraqi parliament was scheduled to discuss the country's electoral law, Sunday, to set the stage for anticipated elections in January. However, two bloody explosions near Baghdad's Green Zone forced a postponement of the debate, which once again, leaves Iraq's political process in the lurch.

Loss of legitimacy

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki already warned lawmakers, Saturday, that a failure to approve the electoral law would cause the government to "lose its legitimacy" and thrust the country back into an atmosphere of chaos and violence.

He says that postponing the election because of the electoral law would mean that the government would lose its legitimacy, along with that of parliament, bringing everything to a halt and spawning chaos. He asks if Iraq wants to return to square one and the days of coups, chaos, sectarianism, al Qa'eda, and Saddam Hussein.

Kirkuk is key stumbling block

Iraq map highlighting Kirkuk

Mohammed Said Idries, of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, says that there are many reasons why the electoral law remains stalled in the Iraqi parliament, but that the quarrel about the identity Kirkuk is one key stumbling block.

He says that the discord centers the major influx of Kurds into Kirkuk in recent years, increasing its population by 10 percent. He says Kurds have left predominantly Kurdish cities to increase the population of Kirkuk, to annex it to Kurdistan.

Kurdish political leaders argue that Kirkuk is historically part of the Kurdish region and that Saddam Hussein expelled many Kurds, bringing in Iraqi Arabs to replace them.

Iraqi diaspora also poses problem

Idries says another obstacle to dentente between Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds is the existence of four-million Iraqis, living abroad, many of whom are disenfranchised. He says a large percentage of them are being ignored politically.

He says the Iraqis living abroad have been totally ignored, until now. He says they represent a force which opposes what is happening inside Iraq. He says various factions are trying to unite these resistance forces to support candidates and influence the political process. He says these forces could block the political process.

An enthusiastic recent gathering of the newly formed, mostly Sunni Iraqi "Accordance Front" brings together many of those disenfranchised Iraqis, some of whom have ties with the "resistance" abroad.

Existential issue?

Member of parliament Selim Jabbari of the Iraqi Islamic Party is a key leader of the Accordance Front. He thinks that the electoral law is an "existential issue" affecting all Iraqis, as well as the future of the country and should not be rushed to a vote.

He says parliament could come up with an electoral law within a few months, but out of principle, the people should decide the fate of the law and express their views about the upcoming election. He says the electoral law is a political issue and affects the interests of all parties. He says it should not be taken lightly, because it will determine the future of the country.

Paul Salem, who heads the Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East, argues that, despite the current impasse, it is a positive sign that Iraqi political adversaries are discussing their differences in parliament.

"First of all, it's good that disagreements are taking place in parliament," Salem said. "It's natural that in parliament people agree or disagree and negotiate and bargain, especially over election laws, which are the most major laws that a parliament passes."

Better relations is a good thing

Salem also thinks that the recent improvement of relations between the United States and regional powers, as well as relations among those regional powers, should impact positively on Iraq's geo-political situation.

"The powers that have an influence in Iraq are in a much better situation than they were two years ago and certainly they will encourage, will coax, will put some pressure on the Iraqi politicians to get this done," Salem said. "So, I think this is a normal hiccup in a very difficult process. The issue of Kirkuk, of course, is a very explosive one, but I don't think it's going to explode, now because the Kurds are very dependent on the U.S. and Turkey. They are clinging to Kirkuk….but they will not go to war over it, now."

However, Mohammed Said Idries is less optimistic that the electoral crisis will be resolved quickly and believes that the imminent American withdrawal is causing instability. He is urging the U.S. government to talk and negotiate with the Iraqi resistance, abroad.