Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Iraqi presidential council has ratified the law, approved by parliament on Monday, November 3, with 106 votes out of 150, reserving a quota of seats for minorities, in view of the elections for the renewal of the provincial councils, scheduled for January 31, 2009.
The law sets aside six seats out of a total of 440: three go to Christians (Baghdad, Nineveh, and Basra), one each to the Yazidi and the Shabak in Nineveh, and one to the Sabians, in the capital. On Saturday, November 8, President Jalal Talabani (Kurdish) and vice-presidents Tareq Al Hashemi (Sunni) and Adel Abdul-Mahdi (Shiite) ratified the decree into law, despite the opposition of the Christian community, which had called for a presidential veto.
On Wednesday, November 5, in an interview with AsiaNews, Shlemon Warduni, the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, called the concession a "token" that does not truly take into account the rights of Iraqi Christians.
On Saturday, November 8, Naseer Ani, head of the presidential staff, released a statement on the "extensive discussions" between the presidential council and Vatican representatives, which examined the invitation of the United Nations to reintroduce article 50. The first draft, which was ultimately rejected, gave 15 seats in six different provinces to the minorities, including 13 for Christians and one each for the Shabak and Yazidi. The head of the presidential cabinet says that in the end, it was decided to ratify the law without introducing any changes, in order to "respect" the role and functions of parliament.
The reply from the Christians is blunt: member of parliament Younaam Kanna says that the community is ready to "boycott the elections," and calls the ratification of the law "an insult." On the Sunni side, involved in a bitter dispute with its Kurdish counterparts in the region of Nineveh, the firm opposition continues to the concession of a quota for minorities. The Sunnis are afraid of an alliance of Christians and Kurds that would increase Kurdish influence in northern Iraq.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has also dashed the expectations of the Kurds, emphasizing the need for a "strong federal state," at a moment in which constitutional modifications are proceeding. It is a new signal from the central government on the ambitions of autonomy in certain areas of Iraq, especially the autonomous region of Kurdistan, which has extensive oil reserves. Baghdad is afraid that an eventual referendum could bring an expansion of Kurdish territories.
The provincial elections scheduled for January 31, 2009, will take place in 14 of the 18 provinces of Iraq. Excluded from the elections are Kirkuk and the three provinces of Arbil, Dohuk, and Sulaimaniyah.