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Iraqi election deal sealed at 11th hour

Analysis: Lawmakers on Sunday ended months of wrangling over an election law. Now for the hard part.

“Everybody got something out of it — I think there’s more consensus on this law than there was on the first law,” said Krikor Derhagopian, an advisor to Hashemi. He said the most likely date for the elections would be Feb. 27 — more than a month later than the January date the U.S. and the U.N. had been pressing for but still within the constitutional guidelines.

If passing the election law looked difficult though, what comes next will make it apparent that that was the easy part.

“Everything is at stake in this election,” said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group. The fundamental political issues meant to be addressed by the breathing space created by the drop in violence here have not been addressed — just deferred. 

“The military part worked but the political part just wasn’t done because the Bush administration didn’t pay attention or didn’t care or didn’t understand or didn’t expend the political capitol,” he said. “The results are that now we have to address these issues. OK, the current parliament cannot do it so everybody is waiting for the new parliament and the new leadership and the new government to do it.”

Around the bargaining table on the sidelines of parliament were a collection of Kurdish officials, Turkmen, Sunni nationalists — and the former head of the feared Shiite militia the Badr Corps. U.S. and U.N. diplomats shuttled back and forth between committee rooms.

For the U.S., an extended political vacuum in Iraq would be a nightmare. With no one faction strong enough to form a government by itself, a governing coalition is expected to be drawn after the election results are in. It could take several months to form a government at the very time that the U.S. is withdrawing combat forces in line with Obama’s pullout plan.

U.S. military officials are already fretting about whether there will be a firm hand on Iraqi security forces during the transition between the old and new governments.

Among the issues to be decided in parliament next year are the fundamental building blocks of a country. The Iraqi Constitution pushed through by the U.S. in 2005 with key issues left intentionally vague was meant to be reviewed and entrenched by the first Iraqi parliament in six months.

Instead, key provisions, such as the future of Kirkuk, are still up in the air.

“The problem is every group interprets the constitution a different way,” said a senior Iraqi official. “Democracy can work but it takes a lot more time than this.”