BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament ended its summer term Wednesday without passing legislation setting up provincial elections this year, forcing the government to call an emergency session for the weekend. However, a positive outcome remains far from certain.
Parliament speaker Mahmoud Mashadani said he would convene a special meeting of lawmakers Sunday to resolve the impasse over the election legislation, which will help decide the status of the oil-rich, ethnically divided city of Kirkuk. U.S. and Iraqi officials have said that new elections could help lead to political reconciliation between Shiite Muslims, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other groups.
The crisis intensified last week when parliament's Kurdish members walked out of the National Assembly in anger over a decision to hold a secret ballot on the short-term fate of Kirkuk. The measure called for Kirkuk to be governed through a quota system of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens while elections are held in the rest of the country. The bill was vetoed by Iraq's Presidency Council.
Iraq's electoral commission has said that elections, if approved now, could not be held until late December, rather than October as first planned.
Publicly, there is hope for a compromise.
"We must overcome these obstacles and problems. Otherwise it will have very negative consequences," said Abdul-Khaleq Zangana, a senior lawmaker in the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
But a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some parties might have a vested interest in delaying passage of the legislation again Sunday. He noted that many elements of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the largest Shiite groups in parliament, and the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the established Sunni factions, probably feared major losses in provincial elections.
In other developments Wednesday, three Iraqi civilians, including a woman, were shot to death by U.S. troops near Samarra during an operation against the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq, the American military said. The military said the incident was under investigation.
The troops opened fire after they were shot at and spotted people they deemed suspicious, the military said.
Nujaif Jassim Issawi said he was surprised to see U.S. forces outside his house at 2 a.m. in Mukaishifa Nahia, northeast of Samarra.
"When my brother saw the U.S. soldiers, he was scared and ran toward the house. The U.S. soldiers saw him running. They shot and killed him.
"My older brother Ali tried to go out of the house trying to see what was happening," Issawi said. "Then U.S. forces shot at him. Then my mother was trying to go and was shot too, and they kept on shooting at the house and the nearby car. The U.S. soldiers got close to the house and when they saw my brother and mother still moving they killed them."
The U.S. military said Sunday that it accidentally killed three civilians June 25 in Baghdad's airport compound. It originally had said the three were criminals who had opened fire on a U.S. Army convoy.
A special correspondent in Samarra and Times staff writers Saif Hameed, Saif Rasheed and Usama Redha contributed to this report.