Iraqi legislators have finally agreed on a formula to include the bitterly contested city of Kirkuk in a national election in January, ending months of political wrangling and fears that the planned U.S. troop pullout might be delayed.

However, the agreement struck in Parliament deals only with how to apportion votes in the semi-autonomous northern enclave, and did not tackle a decision on Kirkuk’s fate.

The electoral deal sets a framework for the poll to be held, probably on January 21 instead of the original date of January 16. It will be Iraq’s second general election since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Kirkuk, an oil centre, was at the heart of a delay in the law being passed because of the tricky question of how to organise votes in the city, which is claimed as an ancestral homeland by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans, but which has seen big demographic swings since the last reliable population breakdown was compiled more than half a century ago.

The election in Kirkuk will be conducted according to this year’s voter registrations, a status quo that appears to favour the Kurds, who have moved back to the city en masse since Saddam was ousted in 2003. The Arab bloc had been arguing in favour of using the 2004 voter registry, taken when the bulk of the Kurds exiled from Kirkuk during Saddam’s regime had yet to return. The Turkomans, meanwhile, had been agitating for the 1957 registry to be the electoral blueprint, because it was more favourable to them. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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