[JURIST] An official from the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission on Friday called for a delay of the January 16 parliamentary elections, after the Iraqi Parliament [official websites, in Arabic] remained at an impasse over updating a controversial provincial election law [JURIST report]. Electoral commission chief Faraj al-Haidari told state media that it would be impossible to organize elections by January 16. The parliament is at a stalemate [JURIST report] over two disputed issues – the inclusion of candidate names on the ballot instead of a closed list of parties, which would threaten the incumbency of powerful but unpopular MPs; and deciding who will be allowed to vote in the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], which is residence to thousands of Kurds as well as Arabs. Many Arabs in Kirkuk feel that the voter records should pre-date the immigration of the Kurds, empowering Arab parties, or split the city into two voting districts. The election law was supposed to be passed 90 days before the election, which according to the Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF] must take place by January 31, 2010. The election was pushed up to January 16 as a result of a Shia religious holiday in early February, which means the election delay will possibly miss its constitutional deadline and be delayed for several months.
The possible delay in Iraqi legislative elections will also have an effect on the Obama administration's troop withdrawal plan. American military commanders planned to start withdrawing troops depending on the outcome of a draft bill approved [JURIST report] by the Iraqi Cabinet that would require 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. Under the proposed bill, which must still be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, the referendum was supposed to occur during the January 16 elections. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw [Washington Post report], which would result in a January 2011 withdrawal – nearly a year ahead of schedule, making it one of the largest logistical feats taken on by a modern army. No parliamentary vote on the bill has been scheduled.