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Iraq passes new election law, smoothing way for January elections

After weeks of delay on passing a new election law that the US and others worried could delay Iraq's election -- and perhaps delay a withdrawal of US troops -- parliament passed a law that should lead to elections as scheduled in January.

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A group of journalists watch the voting process on the election law at the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Sunday.

Mohammed Ameen / Reuters

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Iraqi lawmakers on Sunday approved a new election law after weeks of delay, paving the way for crucial national elections in January.

Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen parties who have been deadlocked for weeks over how to handle the issue of who gets to vote in the disputed city of Kirkuk each claimed the compromise agreement as a victory. The US ambassador to Iraq said it defused the chance that the parliamentary elections would be used try to decide the fate of the oil-rich city.

"The real trick was to make people understand that this election, these election rules, these voter lists cannot be used to get a leg up in the Kirkuk negotiations so we tried very clearly to fence it off," Ambassador Chris Hill said in a conference call with reporters.

The final law, passed by a vote of 141 out of 195 members, provides for results in Kirkuk and other areas claimed by Kurds as well as Arabs and Turkmen, to be reviewed over the course of a year. If there are irregularities, voting there would be repeated.

The US, worried that delayed elections would affect Iraq's political stability as well as potentially extend the US time-line for a troop withdrawal, had been pushing hard for the Iraqi parliament to pass the new law.

US Vice-President Joe Biden last week called Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani as well as the speaker of the Iraqi parliament to urge them to reach an agreement.

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