[JURIST] The Iraqi parliament [official website, in Arabic] on Sunday approved [press release, in Arabic] an amended version of a controversial election law. Iraqi lawmakers had reached an agreement [JURIST report] last month, but amended the legislation in order to avoid a second veto from Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi [personal website, in Arabic]. Al-Hashemi had vetoed [JURIST report] a previous version of the bill, calling for increased representation for Iraqis living abroad. An estimated 1.5 million Iraqis live outside the country, and many are thought to be Sunnis who fled after Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime fell. Under the new version of the law, the number of seats in parliament will increase [NYT report] from 275 to 325, with 310 of those seats allotted to Iraq's 18 provinces and the remainder reserved for Iraqis living outside the country. Al-Hashemi congratulated [press release] the Iraqi people on the adoption of the new law, calling it a "triumph of the will of Iraqis." The White House called [press release] passage of the new law "a decisive moment for Iraq's democracy." Officials said Monday that elections are likely to be scheduled [Reuters report] for February 27.
The Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF] required general elections to be held by January 31 and required the new election law to be approved unanimously by the three members of the Presidency Council [official website, in Arabic], including al-Hashemi, within 60 days of the election, previously scheduled for January 18 of next year. After al-Hashemi's first veto, the Independent High Election Commission [official website, in Arabic] suspended preparations for the election. It remains unclear whether the delay in elections will affect the planned withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq. The elections may also include a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. A draft bill requiring the referendum was approved by the Iraqi cabinet [JURIST report] in August. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw, which would be nearly a year ahead of schedule.