Iraq rebuffs efforts to delay local elections

BAGHDAD Fri Dec 19, 2008 3:01pm GMT

BAGHDAD Dec 19 (Reuters) - Iraqi electoral officials rejected on Friday efforts by provincial authorities to delay local elections scheduled next month, which are expected to alter the balance of provincial power.

"No one has the right to delay the provincial elections scheduled for Jan. 31 except for the prime minister ... with the approval of parliament," Osama al-Ani, deputy head of Iraq's Electoral Commission, said the day after a governing council in northern Iraq voted to delay the polls by six months.

The vote by the provincial council in Nineveh, where the stubbornly violent city of Mosul is located, joins a request from another restive province, Diyala, to delay polls that are seen as a key test of Iraq's fledgling democracy.

Nineveh requested the delay to allow some 45,000 displaced families to return to their homes, while Diyala complained that conditions there are too unsettled.

But Ani was unequivocal: "We believe the elections will be Jan. 31 and we are proceeding according to that schedule."

As violence drops in Iraq, the country's first elections in three years will select new leaders in 14 of 18 provinces.

A vote was postponed indefinitely for Kirkuk, the oil-rich province which has become the site of a showdown between Kurds, who want to fold the city into their semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, and Arabs and Turkmen.

Elections in Kurdistan's three provinces, meanwhile, are expected sometime next year. (Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Missy Ryan)