[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] passed a controversial election law amendment [text, in Arabic] on Sunday, paving the way for January elections as mandated by the Iraqi Constitution [text, PDF]. The new law addresses two issues that were the cause of an impasse [JURIST report]. The amended law calls for open lists that name the candidates, not just their parties. It also gives the UN authority to take part in overseeing voting regulations in the oil-rich city and province of Kirkuk [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], where the return of displaced Kurds has created disputed population and voter registration records. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website] called [press release, in Arabic] the passage of the election law a "historic victory of the will of the people." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] welcomed the agreement [press release], calling the elections "a crucial opportunity to advance national reconciliation and contribute to Iraqs political progress." US President Barack Obama [official website] called [press release] the agreement "an important milestone as the Iraqi people continue to take responsibility for their future." Elections are unlikely [CNN report] to take place before the planned date of January 16, but will happen by January 31.
Last week, an official from the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission [official website] called for a delay [JURIST report] of the January 16 parliamentary elections because of the impasse over updating the election law. A delay could have had an effect on the Obama administration's troop withdrawal plan. US military commanders planned to start withdrawing troops depending on the outcome of a draft bill approved [JURIST report] by the Iraqi Cabinet that would require a referendum on the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF], which allows US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011. Under the proposed bill, which must still be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, the referendum was supposed to occur during the January 16 elections. If the SOFA were rejected by Iraqi voters, US troops would have only one year to withdraw [Washington Post report], which would result in a January 2011 withdrawal - nearly a year ahead of schedule. No parliamentary vote on the bill has been scheduled.