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Analysis: Passing of Iraq election law brings relief

U.S. officials made unwanted compromises, but can now turn their attention toward troop withdrawal.

The Kurds have been particularly coy about which Iraqi politicians they will partner with in the elections. But many of them believe that with new divisions among Shiite parties, their time has come.

After the 2004 vote, the Kurds were the kingmakers who helped bring Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to power in a Shiite-Kurdish alliance. Kingmakers this time? "We could be the kings" says one Kurdish leader.

There is so much up in the air between now and the January elections that if Iraq were a company, it would be in play.

Political alliances are being drawn and huge oil deals are being negotiated while other foreign companies are waiting in the wings. The backdrop is an expectation of continued high-profile attacks aimed at the government and the ever-present view here that as the U.S. prepares to withdraw, this is a country besieged by hostile neighbors.

Even the friendly ones are being way too friendly. Lacking any sort of law barring foreign funding of political parties, Iranian money is secretly, but quite legally, flowing into Iraqi Shiite parties, according to officials.

Last week, the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, summoned the Turkish ambassador to Iraq to formally protest over the ambassador’s involvement in negotiations on the election law in an effort to win concessions for Iraqi Turkmen.

Perhaps the biggest political danger though is that after four years of rampant corruption and inefficiency, many of Iraq’s 19 million eligible voters are so cynical about their politicians they won’t even bother to go to the polls.

At the Baghdad International Trade Fair this week, Iraqi business people trying to survive in a business climate that seems to operate by the law of the jungle said that even by the standards of the Saddam era, they were shocked by the corruption of parliamentarians and government officials.

“We wouldn’t mind if they stole bags of money but all the bags have holes in them — they’re bottomless,” said Majid, a sales representative for a Turkish company.

It was the first trade fair since before the war, when angelic-looking girls in white dresses lined up at the opening ceremony chanted for Saddam to send his missiles to hit Israel as European businessmen unaware of what they were singing filed past.

This smaller, tamer trade fair drew companies from more than a dozen countries but the majority of the exhibits were Iraqi businesspeople on the edge of an uncertain but what they hope is a brighter future.

“Most of the companies in the world are looking at Iraq now,” said the Iraqi manager of a French cement factory. “It’s like starting a restaurant — you start with three or four tables and then you grow to 20.”

What’s on the menu is another story.