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Iraq parliament passes budget, signaling progress

The move came one day after the parliament's speaker threatened to dissolve the body for 'ineptitude.'

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Iraq's parliamentarians passed three laws Wednesday – including the highly significant 2008 budget – just one day after the body's speaker threatened to dissolve it for what he described as ineptitude.

The move comes days after the visit of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and amid tremendous pressures on Iraqi politicians to pass key legislation to bolster security gains by contributing to stability, reconciliation among feuding factions, and economic growth.

"The most important thing is that we passed the budget," says Jawad Ridha Taqi, a deputy from the main Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) of which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member. "Now the government can begin spending on much-needed projects."

Although passing the budget and other legislation offers some reprieve to the struggling government of Prime Minister Maliki, they raise several question marks.

It was a victory for Kurds, who have been pushing hard to get 17 percent of this year's $48 billion budget because of their "historic deprivation."

But this quota applies only for this year; after that, the share of the national budget going to Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region, will have to be based on its population, as is the case now with other provinces, says Mr. Taqi. This will be tied to holding a controversial national census, he adds. That is needed because the Kurds are adamant about putting the fate of the contested city of Kirkuk to a referendum by June.

"It would be more accurate to say it's our fair share," says Handreen Ahmed, editor of Rikay Kurdistan, a main daily in Kurdistan, commenting on the passage of the budget.

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