Iraq’s electoral commission on Monday submitted a proposal to hold national elections on Jan. 21, five days after the previously scheduled date.
The Parliament cleared the way for the national poll when it passed a crucial election law on Sunday night after weeks of political haggling. The elections had been slated for Jan. 16 and there were concerns a significant delay might slow the U.S. troop withdrawal, and undermine Iraq’s fragile stability.
Lawmakers had been debating the legislation for weeks and were deadlocked over how to apportion votes in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a city claimed by both Arabs and Kurds.
“We have sent the date on which we can hold the elections, which is Jan. 21, and have informed the presidency council so that it can issue a presidential decree as to the new date,” the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, told The Associated Press.
Mr. Al-Haidari said the commission has also determined there will be 323 seats in the next parliament, up from current 275. The increase in seats is based on a formula sketched out in the election law that calls for a representative for each 100,000 people, using statistics provided by the Ministry of Trade.
The ministry gathers numbers from the food ration cards that Iraqis use, a relic from the Saddam Hussein era.
U.S. officials had followed the election debate closely as it might affect the withdrawal of American combat troops, which Washington has directly tied to the vote. But after the parliament approved the law on Sunday evening, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said the troop drawdown was on schedule.
Under President Barack Obama’s plan, all U.S. combat troops will remain in Iraq for the elections to act as a security cushion, and will then withdraw by the end of August 2010. The remaining 50,000 trainers and support troops left in the country would leave by the end of 2011.
With violence down sharply nationwide, Washington now hopes the January vote will help bolster Iraq’s fledgling democracy. While many Iraqis are happy with the improved security situation, frustrations remain over the lingering violence, corruption and poor public services.
The U.S. pushed hard on Sunday for lawmakers to reach a compromise on the legislation. And while the deal may not be perfect for everyone, all of Iraq’s major political groupings appear at least satisfied with it and have said they will take part in the elections.
That stands in stark contrast to Iraq’s first post-invasion parliamentary vote in January 2005, when Sunnis boycotted the polls, which helped fuel anger and a spiralling insurgency and bloodshed that engulfed the country for two years.
The law’s passage had been repeatedly delayed by sharp disagreements over how voting would take place in the northern city of Kirkuk, claimed by both Arabs and Kurds and a major flashpoint in the country.
Kurds consider Kirkuk a Kurdish city and want it part of their self-ruled region in northern Iraq. Under the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced under a forced plan by Saddam to make Kirkuk predominantly Arab, though many of these have since returned.