By Anthony ShadidWashington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 10:11 AM
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s vice president on Wednesday vetoed legislation to organize the country’s parliamentary elections in January, throwing the law back to a Parliament that had haggled for months before finally passing it last week.
The veto by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi was the latest wrinkle in growing criticism over the law by the country’s biggest minorities, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Both groups are effectively demanding the allocation of more seats to their blocs in the next parliament, which is almost assured of having a Shiite Muslim majority.
On Tuesday, Kurdish officials threatened to boycott the vote in the three provinces they control in northern Iraq unless they were granted a greater share of seats.
Hashimi, one of three members of the presidency council, Iraq’s executive branch, said Wednesday that he was forced to veto the law because it gave too little representation to the millions of Iraqis — predominantly Sunni Arabs — forced into exile since 2003. These Iraqis have sought refuge in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere.
The veto, Hashimi said, was a move “to deliver justice to Iraqis living abroad.”
Under the Iraqi constitution, Iraq’s president and two vice presidents each have the power to veto legislation.
The elections law is necessary for Iraqis to organize the Jan. 18 balloting, which is likely to realign the constellation of power here. The government that emerges from the voting will rule the fractious country as the U.S. military withdraws its 120,000 troops, and the Obama administration has deemed the vote itself crucial to the pace of that pullout.
Under the law, Iraq’s parliament will grow from 275 seats to 323 seats. Hashimi has insisted that the number of seats reserved for exiles increase from 5 percent to 15 percent of the total number. Kurdish officials have yet to insist on a number, but they contend that the three additional seats they were awarded are not sufficient.
Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish president, said the seat allocation system, which is based on food-ration cards issued by the Trade Ministry, is “illogical, contradicts the reality on the ground and is a distortion of the facts.”