[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] delayed a vote Monday that would have updated the controversial provincial election law [JURIST report] it passed in September 2008. The proposed election law changes, which include ballots that list candidates rather than closed lists of parties, particularly affects the city of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] and is designed to make the election process more transparent. The elections are scheduled for January 16 of next year, and are an important milestone in the US plan for withdrawal. Full US military withdrawal is scheduled to be completed before December 31, 2010, according to the US-Iraq Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF]. US President Barack Obama on Tuesday encouraged [AFP report] Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to make sure that parliament passes the proposed changes, reiterating the US promise to meet the deadline for troop withdrawal.
Disputes over voting procedures in Kirkuk caused the Iraqi Parliament to fail multiple times in its attempts at amendment. Kirkuk is inhabited by Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds, and has been a point of contention between the ethnic groups. Kirkuk also consistently produces nearly one million barrels of oil per day, which accounts for almost half of Iraqi exports. Although the parliament was eventually able to pass the previous election law in September 2008, it failed to come to an agreement [JURIST report] before the summer recess which began in August. Kurdish lawmakers had previously staged a walkout [JURIST report] during the debate in July.