In a major setback to US-backed national reconciliation efforts, Iraq’s presidential council rejected a plan for new provincial elections and sent the bill back to parliament Feb. 27. Many Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 elections for the 275-member parliament and local offices, which gave majority Shi’ites and minority Kurds the bulk of power. The US hopes new elections, to be held Oct. 1 under the draft measure, would give the Sunni bloc more power and thereby undercut the insurgency.
Shi’ite divisions killed the measure. The main issue was local officials or the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will have the right to fire provincial governors. Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council is said to have been the primary objector.
The presidential council did approve the 2008 budget of $48 billion and a law that provides limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody. The Bush administration sought passage of the provincial and amnesty laws as two of 18 “benchmarks.” (AP, Feb. 28)