Iraq provincial powers law sent back to parliament

BAGHDAD Wed Feb 27, 2008 4:37pm GMT

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's provincial powers law, seen as paving the way for fresh local elections this year, has been sent back to parliament for review after being passed amid much fanfare earlier this month.

The three-member presidency council, which must ratify all legislation passed by parliament, said on Wednesday it had not been able to reach the required consensus to approve the law.

The provincial powers law defines ties between Baghdad and local authorities, and is seen by Iraqi officials as a key step before a date can be set for provincial elections, which are due to be held by October 1.

Provincial elections are seen as a chance for parties which boycotted polls in 2005 to win some local power, drawing more disenfranchised Iraqis but especially minority Sunni Arabs more into the political process.

"Consensus has not been reached in the presidency council on the endorsement of the provincial powers bill ... and so the draft law has been returned to parliament for review," a statement from the presidency council said.

It said the council had signed off on two other bills passed this month, the 2008 budget and an amnesty law that could lead to the release of thousands of prisoners from Iraqi custody.

Parliament approved all three bills on February 14 in what was seen as a major legislative breakthrough and a boost for reconciliation between Iraq's divided communities.

One member of the presidential council had objected to the provincial powers law, a presidential official said.

"The member objected to articles regarding the authority of the governor and the process to dismiss the governor," said the head of the presidential office, Naseer al-Ani, declining to name the member.

The council comprises the president, a Kurd, and two vice presidents, a Sunni and Shi'ite respectively.

It was unclear how long parliament would need to review the law. Legislators are on recess until mid-March.

U.S. officials, who have been urging Iraq's leaders to match gains in security with movement on the legislative front, applauded the passage of the three laws two weeks ago.

Washington has pressed Iraqi leaders to pass legislation to help heal sectarian divisions that have festered during a Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. forces and sectarian violence between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.

The laws passed this month are not among several key benchmarks sought by the United States, but the measures, especially the amnesty law, would still form an important component of reconciliation, U.S. officials have said.

(Writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Dean Yates)

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