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Nov 23, 2009

Iraqi parliament fails to reach election deal

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The Iraqi parliament on Sunday failed to resolve an impasse threatening to delay the country’s election in January, which could affect the U.S. military’s plans for a partial pullout next year.

There are only a couple of days left for parliament to address Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi’s veto of an election law, as the law must be passed 60 days before a vote and January 23 is viewed by Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslims as the last possible date in January for the ballot to take place.

Nov 21, 2009

Iraq parliament struggles over elusive vote deal

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s parliament suspended efforts on Saturday to reach a deal on a law which is crucial for an election to take place in January and could affect the U.S. military’ s plans for a partial withdrawal next year.

Political parties would continue negotiations on Sunday, officials said, after Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi vetoed the law and sent it back to parliament to demand greater representation for Iraqis who fled abroad, most of them Sunnis.

Nov 19, 2009

Iraq election impasse continues, veto contested

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi lawmakers failed on Thursday to resolve differences over an election law, dampening hopes of holding a vote on time in January and throwing into doubt a partial U.S. troop withdrawal later next year.

Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, vetoed the election law Wednesday and sent it back to parliament, sparking fears of an election delay that could affect U.S. plans to end combat operations in Iraq in August.

Nov 18, 2009

Iraq VP vetoes vote law, poll date in doubt

BAGHDAD, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice president vetoed an election law on Wednesday, prompting poll workers to halt some preparations and casting new doubt on whether the vote can take place in January.

The United States expressed disappointment and urged Iraqi parliamentary leaders to pass the law quickly to prevent an election postponement that could affect U.S. plans to end combat operations next August and pull out fully by 2011.

Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said his veto of one article of the law was unlikely to delay the poll. But his actions could open the door to a fresh round of debate over the legislation that only won parliamentary approval after protracted wrangling.

The U.S. military commander in Iraq on Wednesday said he did not have to decide until April or May on whether to push back the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq due to a potential poll delay. [ID:nLI523468]

Hashemi, casting himself as a champion of Sunni Arab rights, defended his move as giving Iraqi refugees a voice.

"My suggested amendment is to give justice to all Iraqis living abroad, not just Iraqis displaced in neighbouring countries," he told a news conference.

Many Iraqis abroad are, like Hashemi, members of Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni Muslim community. Many of them fled when the country descended into sectarian warfare after Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, propelling Iraq’s Shi’ite majority to political dominance.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, rebuked Hashemi and said his move was "a serious threat to the democracy and political process" in Iraq. He urged the election commission to continue poll preparations.

One official from Iraq’s electoral commission, which had already complained of little time to prepare for the election, said it had suspended all work.

Another official said work related to candidate lists and distribution of some seats had been stopped, but that other work, such as the training of poll workers, continued.

"It is really hard to see how a delay of the elections can be avoided," said Reidar Visser, editor of the Iraq-focused website www.historiae.org.

"The fear is that multiple issues will come up for discussion once the bill gets back to parliament. Already, some Iraqi politicians are talking about the whole process having gone back to square one."


U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the military withdrawal was on track for now but it was in everybody’s interest to stick to the timetable.

"We’re disappointed at these developments … we urge Iraqi leaders in parliament to take quick action to resolve any of the outstanding concerns that have been expressed so elections can go forward," he told reporters.

Hashemi, one of Iraq’s two vice presidents and part of a presidential council that has veto power over legislation, wants 15 percent of parliamentary seats for minorities and Iraqis displaced internally and abroad.

The electoral law allocates five percent of the 323 seats in the next parliament to minorities, such as Christians, and to Iraqis displaced from their homes.

But it does not spell out how the two million Iraqi refugees estimated to be living abroad will be represented.

Hashemi said the issue could be resolved in a single session of parliament and that electoral authorities should continue preparing without any expectation of a delay in the poll date.

But other politicians, wary of parliamentary squabbling over the issue, were sceptical.

"The election law veto threatens the whole political process and the presidency council’s responsibility is to safeguard the constitution — not to push the country into a dark tunnel," Haidar al-Ibadi, an influential lawmaker from Maliki’s Dawa party, told state television.

The vote is viewed as a major milestone as Iraq emerges from 6-1/2 years of bloodshed and stands on its own feet while U.S. forces withdraw. (For a snap analysis, click on [ID:nLI121953]) (For comments by the U.S. commander in Iraq [ID:nLI523468] (For a factbox on Iraq PM candidates, click on [ID:nLV100270] (For a factbox on political alliances, click on [ID:nLV100270] (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Deepa Babington; editing by Michael Christie and Philippa Fletcher)

Nov 2, 2009

Iraq’s Sunnis seen divided in coming election

BAGHDAD, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Iraq’s Sunnis have failed to form a united bloc to contest the coming election and instead have joined cross-sectarian alliances that may have stark implications for the Sunni Islamist insurgency, analysts say.

A Sunni boycott of the last national poll in 2005 and the rise to dominance of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority boosted resentment at their loss of power following the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and helped fuel the still-active insurgency.

If Sunnis, who are believed to make up roughly 20 percent of the population, end up being better represented after the January parliamentary ballot, that resentment may wane. If they end up being sidelined, frustration may grow.

Ditching the sect-based politics that dominated Iraq after the 2003 invasion seems the best stance that Iraqis of all stripes, not just Sunnis, can adopt after 6-1/2 years of sectarian war and as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw by 2012.

"But at the same time this could lead to depression among Sunni voters when they find out there is no longer a unified Sunni bloc," said Baghdad university analyst Saad al-Hadithi.

"I am afraid this may persuade them not to take part in large numbers in the election, like what happened in 2005."

The bloodshed between Sunnis and Shi’ites that killed tens of thousands after the U.S. invasion has largely abated, but insurgents including Sunni Islamist al Qaeda continue to stage spectacular attacks in an effort to reignite sectarian carnage and to undermine the Shi’ite-led government.

Many Iraqis fear the run-up to the vote will be a catalyst for more violence as rivals jostle for control of Iraq’s oil reserves, and foes of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seek to weaken his claim to have presided over improved security.

U.S. military officials say they are just as nervous about the period after the ballot, when the relative strengths of rival factions will become apparent and bartering over the prime ministerial post and cabinet positions begins.

"While one should applaud cross-sectarian lists, the absence of a coherent Sunni Arab voice could cost this community dearly in political terms," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"Such weakness could only be exploited by outside actors not beholden to the political game, such as former regime elements."


Maliki had intended to co-opt leading Sunni politicians into a broad-based electoral alliance, but failed.

Sunni and Shi’ite politicians said Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar appear to have lobbied for Iraq’s Sunni leaders to form a united front against Maliki. They also failed.

Instead, prominent anti-al Qaeda tribal sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha signed up with Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shi’ite, and Sunni independent Saleh al-Mutlaq allied with former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, which is the one Sunni group likely to campaign on a sectarian platform, has largely fallen apart.

The decision by Iraq’s Sunnis to join cross-sectarian lists reflects a general trend in Iraqi politics as voters reject the overt sectarianism that led to civil war and demand a political discourse focused on national unity and services.[ID:nMUH136843]

"They have done this because they think it is a strategy that will resonate with the electorate and thereby provide them with more votes than a sectarian strategy," said Reidar Visser, editor of the Iraq-focused website historiae.org.

But it may also reflect dangerous fissures among Sunnis, and also spur Sunni anger if for any reason their Shi’ite partners abandon them after the vote.

"It is not that Sunni Arab politicians decided not to form a unified coalition; it’s that they cannot decide on anything jointly," Hiltermann said.

Oct 27, 2009

Iraq renews call for U.N. probe after Baghdad bombings

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq renewed calls on Monday for a U.N. inquiry into the support given by foreign countries to insurgents after twin suicide blasts against government buildings in Baghdad killed more than 150 people.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said Sunday’s bloodshed reinforced the need for the international community to help Iraq defend itself against bomb attacks as it emerges from years of sectarian conflict unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion.