BAGHDAD Iraqi lawmakers end their summer break this week facing urgent tasks of approving a new election law and signing off on a still-unfinished security pact with the U.S. key steps in laying the foundation for a lasting peace.
The 275-member legislature failed last month to approve a law providing for provincial elections this fall after Kurds objected to a power-sharing arrangement for the oil-rich area around Kirkuk, which they want to incorporate into their self-ruled region in the north.
U.N. and Iraqi election officials warn the balloting cannot be held this year unless parliament approves the measure quickly after it reconvenes Tuesday.
But weeks of private meetings and contacts among Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers have failed to produce any breakthrough on the issue, and it was unclear whether the bill would win speedy approval.
U.S. and Iraqi officials believe new elections in Iraq's 18 provinces are an essential step to building a long-term peace among the country's rival religious and ethnic communities. Voters will choose provincial councils, which wield considerable power at the local level.
Many Sunnis and some Shiites boycotted the last provincial election, in January 2005, enabling Shiite religious parties and the Kurds to win a disproportionate share of power at the expense of the Sunnis.
However, deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah expressed doubt that the assembly would be able to approve the election bill quickly.
"I am frustrated with the performance of parliament," al-Attiyah, a Shiite, told The Associated Press on Sunday. "There are many laws that should have been passed, but parliament failed to do so," The election bill is still a problem, and we are pressed for time."
He said that if the legislature can't enact a new law, the current provincial administrations will be "illegitimate" and "this will lead us into a new political crisis."
Sunni lawmaker Adnan al-Dulaimi said further delays in the election bill "will create a new crisis, a big one" because political groups that were organized after the last balloting will feel they are being denied a role in government.
During the upcoming session, parliament must also ratify a security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq governing the status of U.S. troops here after the U.N. Security Council mandate expires at the end of the year.
But the talks have hit an impasse over U.S. insistence on retaining sole legal jurisdiction over American troops in Iraq and differences over a schedule for the departure of the U.S. military. Iraqi officials want all foreign troops out by the end of 2011.
The Iraqis offered unspecified proposals last month to break the deadlock and are expecting a reply from Washington this week, Iraqi officials said on condition of anonymity because they weren't supposed to talk about the negotiations.
Once the two governments sign off on the deal, parliament must ratify it, a process that could lead to lengthy and acrimonious debates in a legislature where major factions lack the party discipline to ensure speedy approval.
The debate will be played out against the backdrop of a major change in the leadership of the U.S.-led force in Iraq. Gen. David Petraeus, credited with reversing the country's slide toward anarchy, will hand over command of Multinational Forces-Iraq this month to Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who once served as the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq.
U.S. officials have complained privately that Iraqi politicians have failed to take advantage of the sharp drop in violence down 80 percent since last year, according to the American military to forge lasting power-sharing agreements.
Despite the improved security, attacks continue in Baghdad and elsewhere.
A series of roadside bombs Sunday wounded at least 14 people in eastern Baghdad, police said. The bombs appeared to have targeted Iraqi police patrols, although most of the victims were civilians.