BAGHDAD — Iraqi legislators suspended parliamentary sessions Thursday until Dec. 30 because of Muslim religious holidays, ending efforts to pass U.S.-backed legislation aimed at achieving national reconciliation this year.
The Sunni speaker of parliament announced the decision after days of debate over a draft bill that would allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government jobs. The measure is among the 18 benchmarks set by the United States to encourage reconciliation.
Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani said many lawmakers would be making the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which culminates with Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice. Others were expected to leave the capital to spend the festival with their families elsewhere in Iraq or abroad. The holiday begins around Dec. 20.
Dec. 30 is one day before the end of the current term for parliament. Lawmakers normally would take a recess for two months at that time, but they were expected to extend the term by a month so they could meet in January to pass a budget and other important measures, a senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Nevertheless, the suspension was the latest setback to efforts by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Shiite-dominated government to bring minority Sunnis into the political process.
The 275-member parliament came under criticism over the summer for taking August off despite the lack of progress on passing the legislation, including a law aimed at ensuring equitable distribution of Iraq's oil riches.
U.S. officials had hoped that approval of the benchmark laws would help bridge the sectarian gap.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who visited Iraq this week, warned that "people are getting impatient" for the Iraqi government to take advantage of improved security and move toward political reforms.