Iraq's Sunni Arab vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has vetoed part of the country's new election law, casting doubt over plans for general elections in January. Al-Hashemi, a member of the presidential council that has veto power over legislation, said on Wednesday he objected to Article One of the law approved by parliament earlier this month because it did not give a voice to displaced Iraqis abroad, many of whom are Sunni Muslims. The move is part of an initiative by the country's presidential council, comprising of President Jalal Talabani and two vice-presidents, who have demanded a greater say in the election for minorities and Iraqi nationals living abroad.
Al-Hashemi said his veto was unlikely to delay the poll. However, as a result of the veto, Iraq's election commission halted all preparations for the elections on Wednesday. The Iraqi parliament will now reconvene to discuss the law in question.
The openSecurity verdict: Yesterday, the UN's Special envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, had described the preparations for the Iraqi election as a 'Herculean task.' The UN's 20-strong electoral team have been providing assistance to Iraq's electoral commission to ensure that basic standards are met. The halt to preparations and a possible delay of the vote could be a blow to Iraq’s fledgling democracy and to US plans to withdraw American troops from the country. The US has said it will begin withdrawing troops about sixty days after the national elections. The Obama administration hopes to withdraw all combat soldiers by the summer of next year ahead of a full withdrawal of support troops and those training Iraqi units in 2011. These plans however could be affected by the electoral and political wrangling in Iraq.
The passage of the disputed election law earlier this month was delayed eleven times, largely on the question of representation of the ethnically mixed area of Kirkuk, an oil-rich Kurdish-dominated region in northern Iraq. Once the election law was passed on 8 November, it seemed ethno-political differences had been resolved. But as details of the allocation of seats in parliament have become clear, familiar divisions have once again surfaced.
Last Friday, the UN Security Council called on Iraq's political parties to show 'national unity' and for all political blocs and their leaders to exercise statesmanship. Such calls have not, however, lain to rest political divisions. Kurdish officials threatened on Tuesday to boycott the upcoming elections in the three provinces they control in northern Iraq unless more seats in parliament are allocated to their region. The Iraqi parliament expanded from 275 to 323 seats to reflect population growth but only three of these seats were allocated to the northern Kurdish bloc, giving them a total of 38. Other regions, such as Basra, saw a much larger growth in their seats. According to analysts, the Kurds had been expecting an additional seventeen seats.
Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said in a statement that the seat allocation system, which is based on food ration cards issued by the Trade Ministry, is ‘illogical, contradicts the reality on the ground and is a distortion of the facts.’ Any Kurdish boycott of the national elections may not only lead to an unrepresentative outcome but could threaten the Kurdish bloc’s tireless efforts to build political credibility and clout in Baghdad. Barzani’s threat, together with demands by al-Hashemi and President Jalal Talabani, who want an increase in seats for minorities (Sunnis, Christians and expatriates), underscore the ethnic and political divides that continue to colour Iraq’s political system.
Afghans blame poverty and corruption for war
The findings of an Oxfam survey released a day before Hamid Karzai's inauguration for a second presidential term show that seventy percent of Afghans believe poverty and corruption are fueling the conflict in Afghanistan. In the survey of 704 randomly selected Afghan men and women, Taliban violence was seen as less important than government weakness and corruption. One in ten interviewees said they had been timprisoned at least once since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, of whom a fifth claimed to have been tortured.
On Tuesday, a new ranking of 180 nations released by Transparency International put Afghanistan as the second most corrupt country in the world. The United States and its allies want Hamid Karzai to use Thursday's inauguration speech to announce concrete steps to fight corruption and govern in a transparent fashion. The Obama administration has made clear that it needs a legitimate and inclusive Afghan government as a partner for the insurgency and challenges in Afghanistan to be contained. In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, President Obama said he aimed to bring the Afghan war to an end before he leaves office. He said he would soon announce the results of a long-awaited review, which would include an exit strategy to avoid ‘a multi-year occupation that won't serve the interests of the United States.’
Meanwhile in an attempt to quell growing public fears that British troops could be bogged down indefinitely in Afghanistan, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband insisted yesterday that British involvement in Afghanistan is 'not a war without end.' In his speech to the NATO conference in Edinburgh, Miliband stressed the need for a lasting political settlement that included moderate Taliban elements not ideologically committed to a global jihad.
Israel to expand settlement in East Jerusalem
Israel’s plan to build 900 new homes in Gilo settlement in occupied East Jerusalem has added yet another obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Israeli officials claim the move is part of a routine building program. The Gilo settlement in the West Bank is home to 40,000 Israelis and is built on land captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israeli settlements built on occupied land are illegal under international law. Israel however rejects the international description of Gilo as a settlement claiming it is a neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
The move has drawn sharp criticism from the U.N., Arab governments and Western powers, including Britain, who have described Tel Aviv’s refusal to halt settlement construction as ‘wrong’ and a ‘major obstacle’ to peace efforts in the region. The US state department yesterday condemned the planned construction as 'dismaying' and objected to Israel’s evictions and demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. On Wednesday, President Obama added that additional settlement building only further complicated peace efforts in the region and embittered Palestinians in a way that could be very dangerous.
A senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel’s expansion of the settlement will destroy ‘the last chances for the peace process.’ Abbas has said peace talks can only resume if settlement building stops.
Six suspected Muslim separatists killed in South Thailand
Thai security forces say they have killed six suspected Muslim separatist fighters in a deadly shootout in southern Thailand. The clash is said to have occurred after police and soldiers surrounded a house in Pattani provice on Tuesday. Two Thai soldiers were reportedly wounded and no suspects were taken into custody, according to police officials.
More than 4,000 people have been killed and many more wounded as a result of violence in Thailand's Muslim-majority south. Although the fighters have no public programme of war aims, they are thought to be seeking an independent state.
Five Iranian protestors sentenced to death
Iranian state television reported on Tuesday that five people had been sentenced to death for involvement in post-election unrest in June 2009. The justice department described those facing the death penalty as members of “terrorist and opposition” groups. A further eighty-one people have been sentenced to prison terms of up to fifteen years. Iran began a mass trial of more than one hundred opposition figures and activists in August, accusing them of rioting, spying and plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.