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Baghdad bombings – incentive to move forward on elections

Insurgents are trying to disrupt the political process. Iraqi politicians can undermine these terrorists by promptly passing a new election law.

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If Sunday's horrific bomb blasts in the heart of Baghdad were meant to foment political instability ahead of national elections in January, Iraq has a recourse: Its political leaders can proceed apace toward elections – an important milestone for the country and the region.

The parliamentary elections, if fair and peaceful, will mark the first real transition from one Iraqi administration to the next. They will take the country that much further down the road toward democratic maturity in a region parched of it. They will test whether Iraq's security forces can be loyal to the state, and they will help ensure that US troops withdraw, as agreed, by the end of 2011.

Any number of internal or regional actors would like to upset this scenario, which is why it's so important that Iraq's politicians clear any obstacle to the elections.

So far, the parliament has been unable to agree on rules for the balloting, which, according to the Iraqi Constitution, must take place before Jan. 30. The parliament missed an Oct. 15 deadline for a new election law. American and United Nations officials warn that if lawmakers don't pass new rules by this weekend, logistics will force the election's postponement.

Two main issues stand in the way of an election law. One is whether voting lists should be "open" and include the names of candidates and not just parties. They should, because an individual is more accountable to a voter than a faceless blob of a party.

Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has spoken in favor of the open-list system. Lawmakers who have been able to hide and thrive behind the blob are naturally not keen on this idea.

The other issue is far less clear-cut. It has to do with who votes in the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk. Arabs and Turkmens complain that in recent years, Kurds have flooded into the city, which the Kurds claim as traditionally theirs (before Saddam Hussein imported Arabs and drove Kurds out).

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