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Iraq to go ahead with local polls this year

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (R) meets Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi at his office in Baghdad July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Iraqi government office/Handout

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq will go ahead this year with local elections, which could alter the country’s political balance, even if lawmakers fail to pass a contentious elections law, a senior Iraqi official said on Thursday.

“The elections will take place at the end of this year,” Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi said in a television interview.

“If the parliament doesn’t approve the (new) elections law, there is an old law. The government cannot delay the elections,” Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi’ite, added.

The United States and United Nations have been pushing Iraq to move quickly to hold the provincial polls, originally scheduled for October 1, whose fate has been bogged down by a dispute over control of Iraq’s oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Last month, the Iraqi parliament adjourned for its summer break without passing the law needed to hold the polls after lawmakers were unable to resolve differences over how the vote would affect Kirkuk, home to a mix of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

Minority Kurds are demanding that Kirkuk be incorporated into their autonomous northern region.

Iraq’s electoral commission said earlier this week that the elections law must be passed by mid-September in order to hold the elections this year.

Washington hopes the polls will give a greater political voice to some Sunni and Shi’ite factions that stayed away from previous polls.

Editing by Sami Aboudi