by Jamal Hashim
BAGHDAD, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Iraq's January parliamentary elections may be delayed to late February due to disputes among political parties over an election law, threatening the U.S. plans to withdraw its combat troops from the war-torn country in August 2010.
For months the Iraqi lawmakers have been struggling to pass the amendments needed to the law in an attempt to reform the elections process to make it more representative for Iraqis inside and outside the country.
A parliamentary source, who refused to be named, told Xinhua that leaders of several political factions met late on Wednesday at the house of the former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to discuss the political impasse and that another meeting is planned Thursday to find a way out of the deadlock.
"The meeting discussed how to reach a consensus over the election law, and some proposals were made during the meeting," the source said.
For his part, Allawi told Arabiyah satellite channel that various political blocs proposed to move the date of the country's elections to Feb. 27, or even March 1.
Hadi al-Ameri, a key Shiite lawmaker, told reporters after the meeting that he is optimistic that the Iraqi politicians will overcome the obstacles as they all agree on the necessity of holding the elections before the expire of the current parliament mandate due on March 16, 2010.
"There was an agreement among the politicians in the meeting that seats for the provinces would remain as it is before the veto to the election law by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, but the Kurds would be granted two more seats and then number of parliament seats will increase to 325 instead of 323," Ameri said.
On Nov. 18, Hashimi vetoed the controversial election law, demanding more seats in the next parliament for Iraqis living abroad among whom most are Sunni Arab Muslims.
The vetoed elections law stated that 323 parliamentary seats would represent Iraqi people instead of the current 275 seats in the current parliament.
As part of the political struggle among Iraqi factions, Hashimi's veto actually meant to amend part of the elections law, but the veto led to a political crisis when the lawmakers responded by changing other articles of the law which led to increase the number of seats allocated to the Kurdish provinces and reduce the seats allocated to the Arab provinces, particularly, the Sunni ones.
Meanwhile, the United Nations urged Iraqi politicians to work together to reach a "consensual solution" which meets the interests of all parties to agree on an election law.
UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) said in a statement that it supports a new feasible election date to be on Feb. 27, 2010.
"UNAMI strongly supports the efforts to clarify voting for Iraqis abroad as well as the inclusion in the law of the distribution of seats among the governorates, and the announcement of a final election date, with Feb. 27 as a feasible option for practical and constitutional reasons," it said.
However, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki rejected any delay to the date of elections, saying "the elections' postponement would mean destroying all what we have done and sacrifice for through the political process."
According to the Iraqi law, Thursday is last day for Hashimi to again veto the latest amendments to the elections law, but Abdul Elah Kadhem, spokesman of his office told reporters that Hashimi is waiting for a consultation from the Iraqi federal court whether to count the holiday of the Eid al-Adha feast within the 10 days given to him.
"If the court does not count the days of the holiday in, then he will postpone his final decision for more deliberations, but if the law count the holiday in, then he will have to announce his stance on Thursday," Kadhem said.
The U.S. and Iraqi officials fear that the latest political crisis would delay the elections and then may affect the U.S. plans to withdraw its combat troops in August 2010.
Observers see that it is not clear yet whether the elections' delay would affect the American withdrawal from the country, but it is likely to complicate the plans of the U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama has ordered the pullout of his combat troops by the end of August 2010, and the withdrawal of the remaining troops to be by the end of 2011.
Special Report: Tension escalates in Iraq