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Iraqi parliament calls session on Kirkuk
Iraq US Tro 5548000
A U.S. Army soldier from Hammer Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment peers over a wall at detainees in Nahr al-Imam, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad in Iraq's volatile Diyala province Wednesday, July 30, 2008. Twenty suspected terrorists were detained in a pre-dawn sweep. Nearly 50,000 Iraqi police and soldiers were involved in a U.S.-backed operation against al-Qaida in Iraq in one of its last major strongholds near the capital, a senior provincial official said Wednesday. - photo by Associated Press
    BAGHDAD — Iraq’s parliament went into summer recess Wednesday without resolving key disputes holding up this year’s provincial elections, forcing the speaker to announce a special session to discuss a power-sharing formula for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
    Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, adjourned the session as scheduled but ordered lawmakers to meet again on Sunday in a final effort to resolve the issue. His Shiite deputy, Khalid al-Attiyah, criticized the decision and said the legislative session should be extended until the matter is resolved.
    ‘‘The committee discussing Kirkuk could not find a solution and has asked for more time,’’ al-Mashadani said. ‘‘The problem of Kirkuk is a complicated one and failure to reach a solution will lead to more bloodshed,’’ he warned.
    Failure to compromise on a new law establishing rules and funding for the U.S.-backed provincial vote will likely force the vote to be delayed until next year. Under previous legislation, the election had been scheduled for Oct. 1 but will now probably be put off until December at the earliest — a blow to efforts to heal Iraq’s sectarian rifts.
    The elections are expected to redistribute power in Iraq’s 18 provinces in what is considered a necessary step toward reconciliation. Many Sunni Arabs boycotted provincial balloting in January 2005, enabling Shiite Muslims and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power.
    The new law says the provincial council in Kirkuk should be divided equally among Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs. But Kurds and their allies, who currently hold a majority on the council, fear that will dilute their power. Kurds consider Kirkuk part of their historical homeland, and are seeking to incorporate the oil-rich area into their semiautonomous region to the north.
    Lawmakers pushed through a draft of the elections law earlier this month despite a walkout by the Kurdish bloc, but the measure was vetoed by the presidential council, which is led by a Kurd, Jalal Talabani.
    The standoff over the law has left Kurdish leaders at odds with the central government. Parliament failed to approve an additional budget of $21 billion after Kurdish lawmakers walked out Wednesday to protest the law.
    Finance Minister Bayan Jabar said the failure could delay government expenditures on food rations, fuel for power plants and pay raises for civil servants. The extra budget would increase the overall budget to $70 billion this year.
    The United Nations offered a possible compromise and suggested delaying a vote in Kirkuk while going ahead in other provinces, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Associated Press from an Iraqi lawmaker. It suggested the parliament should wait for recommendations from a committee until Dec. 31 at the latest and fix a date for the vote in Kirkuk then.
    Al-Mashhadani said the U.N. proposal was ‘‘reasonable’’ but the national elections should be held this year.
    Tensions over the issue escalated Monday after a suicide bomb attack in Kirkuk during a Kurdish protest against the elections law killed 25 people and injured more than 180.
    Kirkuk is home to Kurds, Turkomen, Arabs and other minorities. After the explosion in Kirkuk, dozens of angry Kurds stormed the offices of a Turkoman political party that opposes Kurdish claims on Kirkuk, opening fire and burning cars amid accusations that their rivals were to blame. Nine Turkomen, or ethnic Turks, were reported wounded.
    Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which has been defending the rights of Turkomen, called Iraqi authorities to express concern over the incidents in Kirkuk and proposed to send a plane to bring the wounded to Turkey for treatment, the Iraqi president’s office said.
    On the military front, nearly 50,000 Iraqi police and soldiers were involved in a U.S.-backed operation against al-Qaida in Iraq in one of its last major strongholds near the capital, a senior provincial official said Wednesday.
    The house-to-house search operations now focused on the Diyala provincial capital of Baquoba will be extended to rugged areas near the Iranian border, said Ibrahim Bajilan, the head of the regional council. He said the crackdown would last about two weeks.
    Diyala has been one of the hardest provinces to control despite numerous military operations. Baquoba has enjoyed security improvements recently but continues to see attacks, such as twin suicide bombings that killed at least 28 people on July 15 and a number of suicide attacks carried out by female bombers.
    AP reporter Sinan Salaheddin contributed from Baghdad.

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