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Iraq election official: Even if Kurdish boycott averted, January deadline impossible

Top Iraq election official says the Iraq elections cannot be held by the January deadline. US Gen. Ray Odierno reserved judgment on whether a delay would affect the US withdrawal.

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Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani (l.), talks with Prime Minister of the Kurdish region Government of Iraq Barham Saleh on Oct. 28 in Arbil, Iraq.

Yahya Ahmed/AP/File

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A senior Kurdish leader on Friday moved to defuse the latest threat to Iraq's imperiled elections – a possible Kurdish boycott – saying ongoing discussions with Iraqi leaders and political party blocs were close to resolving their differences.

"I am cautiously optimistic there will be a resolution," says Barham Saleh, prime minister of the Kurdish regional government.

Also to be resolved is the opposition of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who on Wednesday vetoed the election law passed last week, arguing that it did not allow for enough participation by Iraqi expatriates – a majority of whom are Sunni Arab.

A vote on the law is scheduled for Saturday. But the country's top election official said that even if lawmakers resolved all their differences, it would be impossible to hold elections in January.

"We have already stopped all our work," says Faraj al-Haydari, the head of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). Both IHEC and United Nations officials have said they need at least 60 days to prepare for a credible election. The poll would have to be held before the last week in January – the start of some of the holiest days on the Shiite calendar.

While some political parties are happy to hold elections in February, US and Iraqi political leaders have viewed the January deadline mandated by the Iraqi Constitution as sacrosanct. This election, which could impact the timing of the US withdrawal, is considered particularly crucial in creating a more representative Iraqi government than the poll four years ago. That election was largely boycotted by Sunnis, resulting in a lack of political power that was seen as helping to fuel the insurgency.

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