FOR once, some good news from Iraq. The members of the Iraq Parliament have passed the necessary legislation to enable a general election to be held in January, but one week later than the originally scheduled January 16. It is particularly good news for the United States and President Obama because, if the election passes off without undue incident and a new parliament is in place, the Americans will be able to begin the withdrawal of combat troops on August 31 next, in line with the agreement reached last year between the two governments.

The departing MPs left it until the last possible moment before approving the election arrangements. Two difficult issues had prevented an earlier decision: the first concerned a change to an “open list” system for candidates so that the electors can choose individuals rather than a party block -- this may well change the character of the next parliament considerably; the second was the more difficult question of the right to vote in the city of Kirkuk which includes both Kurdish and Arab areas in both of which the population has grown considerably since the end of the war - for this problem the only solution found was to delay its consideration for one year.

The ever-present third issue, that of security, will have been very much in the minds of Iraqis and Americans. It is essential that these elections are “free and fair” and unaffected by violence.


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