Kurdish political leaders threatened Tuesday to boycott January's national elections unless Kurdish areas receive more seats in parliament, throwing into doubt the vote which could determine how quickly U.S. troops can go home.
Just a week ago, legislators and observers were celebrating the passage of a key election law needed to carry out the national polls. But the new Kurdish demands coupled with a veto threat earlier in the week by the country's Sunni vice president could derail the vote.
The office of Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani said the way seats are distributed after the election law's passage is unfair to Kurds.
"Unless this seat allocation formula is reconsidered in a just manner, the people of (the) Kurdistan Region will be compelled to boycott the election," a statement posted on Barzani's Web site said. Three northern provinces make up the Kurdish autonomous region, and are represented by their own parliament as well as president.
The statement also said the current division of seats is "an attempt to reduce the number of Kurdistan Region representatives in the next Iraqi parliament and diminish their achievements."
While Kurds have fought bitter political battles among themselves in their autonomous region in northern Iraq, they have generally presented a strongly united front on the national political scene.
Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Iraq's national parliament, echoed Barzani's demands and boycott threat.
"The main point is the allocation of seats," Othman told The Associated Press. "If no changes are made on this matter then we will not participate in the elections."
Sunni veto threat
Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, threatened earlier this week to veto the crucial election law unless voters outside Iraq are guaranteed more seats. Most Iraqis living abroad are believed to be Sunni.
The boycott and veto threats come after lawmakers haggled for weeks over the election legislation before passing it on Nov. 8, much to the relief of the United States and many Iraqi political leaders.
Washington has tied its withdrawal of all combat troops to the national vote. U.S. military officials have said they will begin to draw down forces about 60 days after the election, hoping for assurances by then that Iraq is on stable footing.
Under a plan by President Barack Obama, all U.S. combat personnel must be out of Iraq by the end of August 2010. The rest of the troops, such as trainers and support personnel, must leave by the end of 2011.
Lawmakers and members of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission were meeting Tuesday with parliamentary leaders to try to hash out a solution to the vice president's demands, commission member Qassim al-Aboudi said.