BAGHDAD Iraq's parliament pushed through a law Tuesday meant to pave the way for U.S.-backed provincial elections that will redistribute regional power. But the measure was clouded by a Kurdish boycott, and critics predicted the ballot won't be held this year.
The measure still needs to be approved by Iraq's three-member presidential council, which is led by Kurdish President Jalal Talabani, adding significance to the Kurdish objections.
Kurdish legislators, along with the two deputy parliament speakers, walked out of the chamber after lawmakers decided to hold a secret ballot that included in the law a requirement for ethnic power-sharing in the disputed oil center of Kirkuk.
Kurds' opposition to the equal distribution of provincial council seats among Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs in the Kirkuk region outside Kurdish territory but considered by many Kurds to be part of their historical land has been a major factor in stalling passage of the election law.
Holding elections for governing councils in Iraq's 18 provinces is seen by U.S. officials as another key step toward repairing Iraq's sectarian rifts. Many Sunni Arabs boycotted provincial balloting in January 2005, enabling Shiite Muslims and Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power.
A preliminary election law passed earlier this year had been touted as a sign that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government was making progress on the political front in addition to security gains. But the Iraqis then deadlocked over the follow-up law setting guidelines and allocating funds for the vote, which had been planned to begin Oct. 1.
Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah, a Shiite, said the secret ballot held in parliament Tuesday was unconstitutional and accused lawmakers of "arm-twisting."
He said the presidency council was unlikely to approve the law, meaning it would go back to parliament for further debate a move that would make provincial elections this year unlikely.
"It is foolish and absurd to pass a law that has been rejected by an entire bloc," al-Attiyah said at a news conference. "Regrettably, after doing this, I do not see any chance for the elections to be held in this year if this process continues."
The passage came two days after Iraq's election authority proposed delaying the start of provincial balloting until Dec. 22 because it was too late to organize the balloting.
Al-Attiyah and the Kurdish deputy parliament speaker, Arif Taifor, suggested that even a December date was optimistic.
Prominent Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said Kurds would raise the Kirkuk power-sharing provision with the constitutional court.
"The draft of the provincial elections law will be referred to the presidential council, which will definitely not approve it. So the elections will be postponed until next year," Othman insisted.
Tensions have been rising in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, as Kurds increasingly press their claim on the city and urge the government to hold a long-delayed referendum in Kirkuk on whether to join the Kurdish region.
A Kurdish journalist, Soran Mama Hama, was killed near the city late Monday. A reporter for the Kurdish-language magazine Leven, he often covered government corruption, and the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders urged Iraqi authorities to investigate whether he was killed over his work.
"He wrote hard-hitting articles about local politicians and security officials and had received threats from people telling him to stop his investigative reporting," the group said.
Iraq's largest Sunni political party, meanwhile, denounced the shooting deaths of two relatives of a provincial governor Sunday during a U.S. raid north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said two armed relatives of Salahuddin governor Hamad Hammoud were killed during a raid aimed at al-Qaida in Iraq elements in the city of Beiji. It said the slain men showed "hostile intent" and American troops fired in self-defense.
The Iraqi Islamic Party argued the killings of the governor's son and nephew were unjustified, calling them a "heinous crime."
It also decried what it called "continued violations of the legal and judicial authority of the Iraqi government" by U.S. forces in Iraq.