Iraqi parliament OKs election law

BAGHDAD -- After months of infighting, Iraq's parliament passed a crucial law Wednesday that will allow most of the country to hold provincial elections early next year.

The law is seen as a key step toward bringing under-represented groups back into Iraqi politics, particularly Sunnis in Anbar province who have recently turned against violence and al Qaida extremists.

The United States and the United Nations have been urging Iraqi politicians for months to agree on a law, hoping that holding elections soon will help solidify recent, tenuous security gains here.

A contentious debate over who will control Kirkuk, an oil-rich northern city, was the main sticking point delaying an agreement. Legislators didn't resolve that issue Wednesday and instead set it aside for later.

Still, the passage of the law means that elections to choose provincial and local leaders in most of Iraq can move forward. U.N. officials, who will organize the vote, vowed that country will be ready for balloting by the end of January.

Only elections in Kirkuk will be postponed.

Though Kirkuk is now populated by Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen, Kurdish officials argue the city belongs to Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous northern region of Iraq that borders Turkey, Iran and Syria. Kirkuk is historically Kurdish, but under Saddam Hussein, the government forced out the Kurds and repopulated the city with Arabs.

After the U.S. invasion, Kurds pushed Arabs from the city.

Sunni Arab and Turkomen legislators had proposed sharing power with Kurds in Kirkuk, fearing that they will lose a stake in the city and its enormous oil wealth if regular elections are held there.

To allow voting to move forward elsewhere, legislators agreed Wednesday to form a parliamentary committee that would review the Kirkuk dispute. The committee is to make its recommendations by March 31, and the parliament will then decide how to deal with the city.