Clash over 'Kurdish veto' looms in Iraq

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A law promulgated during the US-led occupation of Iraq, which governs how the country's new constitution is to be written, has been largely rejected by members of the United Iraqi Alliance, which has a majority of seats in the new parliament.

The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), which was brought into force last March by former US administrator Paul Bremer, was originally intended to head off a political crisis by, in effect, granting Iraq's Kurdish population a veto over the new constitution.

But while it solved a short term problem, the inclusion of the so-called "Kurdish veto" clause in the TAL seems set to cause a new crisis, as both Shia and Sunni Arabs say they now hope the new parliament will simply cancel it, before debate over the constitution starts in earnest.

Many Alliance members, including Ibrahim Ja'aferi, widely believed to be the leading candidate for prime minister, have said the law must be either amended or scrapped altogether.

Sheikh Jalal al-Din al-Sahgeer, a high ranking Shia cleric and Alliance member, said of the veto: "Of course this is unacceptable. There is no such thing as a democracy in which the minority decides, and the majority plays no role."

The Alliance is dominated by Shia religious parties, which follow the word of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest ranking Shia cleric.

He registered his objections to the law last spring but has said nothing publicly about it since.

Kurds, who won the second largest bloc of seats in parliament, insist the clause stays, and a western diplomat told journalists yesterday that an effort to get rid of the law, or even the veto clause, could trigger a walkout by Kurds, "and everyone understands those risks", he said.

He added that many of the Alliance members criticising the document were among those who actually signed it when it was put into effect in March.

"They recognise the utility of a document that everyone ascribes to," he said.

Writing a new constitution is the main task of the newly elected parliament, which is expected to have a draft ready by August 15 that will be put to a nationwide referendum on October 15, according to the TAL.

The veto clause states that if three provinces vote by two thirds or more against the draft it will fail.

Kurds make up the majority of three provinces in the north. According to the TAL itself, it can only be amended by a three quarters majority vote in parliament, which the Kurds, with more than a quarter of seats, would be sure to block.

But Jawad al-Maliki, a senior member of the Islamic Da'awa party, which is part of the Alliance, said this week that the authority of the newly elected parliament was greater than that of the law, because it was passed under military occupation.

Sunni Arab groups which boycotted the elections have also registered their opposition to the TAL.

At least 20 people were killed in three separate attacks on Shia mosques in Baghdad on Friday, despite increased security on the eve of the Shia religious festival of Ashura, Reuters reports.

Two suicide bombers targetted worshippers at the mosques, killing at least 17 people, and a rocket fired near a police station and close to another Shia mosque killed three people, police said.

Police in the capital have set up extra checkpoints and land borders have been closed to try to prevent a repeat of last year’s bomb attacks against Shia worshippers in Baghdad and Karbala that killed at least 181 people.

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