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Iraq election stalemate could delay US troop withdrawal

Iraqi lawmakers are divided over legislation required to go ahead with elections scheduled for January. Drawdown of US troops in Iraq was set to speed up after the elections.

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Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani speaks during an event held in Baghdad to announce the formation of the "Iraq's Unity Alliance" ahead of the upcoming national election on Wednesday.

Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters

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Once again the US finds itself hostage to Iraqi politics – this time as a result of a standoff among Iraqi political parties over an overdue election law.

Without the legislation, parliamentary elections set for next January could be put off – which in turn could stall US military plans to accelerate troop withdrawals once the election milestone is passed. The US has about 125,000 troops in Iraq, but President Obama wants the number to drop to 50,000 by August.

The situation, which caught Obama administration diplomats off guard as they have focused attention on Afghanistan and the electoral crisis there, is reminiscent of the stalemate the Bush administration faced in 2007 concerning a series of "benchmark" laws the US Congress sought in return for continuing support to Iraq.

At that time, US diplomats spoke of "two clocks" in the two capitals to explain the discrepancy between Washington's demand for quick political action and Baghdad's refusal to be rushed.

The two clocks are on display again, with US diplomats including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton imploring Iraqi leaders to pass an election law. For their part, some Iraqi politicians say it is Americans and not Iraqis who feel a need to hurry on legislation that cuts to the heart of Iraq's power struggles.

The election law should have been approved by Oct. 15 in order for elections scheduled for Jan. 16 to go forward, according to the Iraqi constitution.

Holding up passage of the law are two political issues that have the potential to remake Iraq – or tear it apart.

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