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Council rejects Iraqi provincial law

The decision could derail political deals crafted by parliament.

February 28, 2008|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Iraq's presidential council Wednesday rejected a law on the powers of local government that was approved by parliament and touted by the Bush administration as a sign of reconciliation between the country's ethnic and religious groups.

The three-man council asked that parliament reexamine the complicated and multifaceted law when it reconvenes March 18.

Some politicians said the move could jeopardize the package of political deals approved Feb. 13 to heal rifts between the country's main communities at a time of decreased sectarian violence.

Lawmakers approved the provincial government law as the most important part of an up-and-down vote on a trio of bills that included a $48-billion budget and a plan to provide amnesty to Sunni prisoners. Some lawmakers say the council has no authority to reject any part of their decision.

"We will issue a complaint to the federal court about this," said Nassar Rubaie, a Shiite lawmaker loyal to the bloc of cleric Muqtada Sadr. "This is illegal."

Iraqis are to go to the polls Oct. 1 to elect new provincial governments. A boycott of January 2005 elections by Sunnis and Sadr loyalists led to lopsided local governments that critics say don't represent constituencies and contribute to sectarian and ethnic tensions.

The presidential council consists of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Shiite Muslim Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq Hashimi.

They gave lawmakers vague reasons for rejecting the law, which includes dozens of articles, assuring them that they would provide notes later. Nasir Ani, spokesman for the council, said certain parts of the law violated the constitution, but he did not detail the council's complaints.

"The presidency has the right to object to laws presented by the parliament," he said in an interview. "This is a constitutional right."

Rubaie and others said the rejection of the law revealed stark differences between various factions over the shape and nature of the future Iraqi state. They suspect Talabani and Mahdi want the law changed to strip any future prime minister of the power to remove governors.

Mahdi is loyal to the political party of Shiite cleric Abdelaziz Hakim, who has long argued in favor of greater power and autonomy for Iraq's regions over the central authority of the state.

Kurds also hope for a weak Baghdad government in order to strengthen and possibly expand their semiautonomous enclave in the north.

Sunnis as well as loyalists to the movement behind Sadr envision an Iraq with a strong central government.

"There are two wills in Iraq," Rubaie said. "One that wants to strengthen the center and another that does not."

Some observers viewed the disagreements as minor technical disputes that could be resolved in the coming months without torpedoing the elections in October.

"It's not urgent anyway, because this law will be implemented after elections," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker.

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daragahi@latimes.com

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