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Iraq MPs weigh short recess, irked at US pressure

May 6, 2007

Iraq MPs weigh short recess, irked at US pressure

By Aseel Kami and Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi lawmakers said on Sunday they might shorten their two-month summer recess to try to pass laws aimed at easing sectarian tensions, but bridled at growing U.S. pressure for them to scrap the holiday. 

During a visit to Baghdad last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hoped parliament would not go into recess without agreeing a package of laws, including a bill dividing up Iraq's oil wealth and a measure to reverse a ban on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from public life. 

Iraqi soldiers search a house during a raid in Baghdad's Sadr City, May 6, 2007. Iraqi lawmakers said on Sunday they might shorten their two-month summer recess to try to pass laws aimed at easing sectarian tensions, but bridled at growing U.S. pressure for them to scrap the holiday. (REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz)
Since then, American lawmakers have increasingly pressed Iraq's parliament to cancel its July-August break. 

"If there is a need ... parliament should cancel the holiday or reduce it," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. 

"As for the American intervention, I reject this. It is unreasonable and unacceptable." 

Nassar al-Rubaie, head of the parliamentary movement of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said his bloc agreed the holiday could either be cancelled or shortened. 

"For the interests of the Iraqi people I think we should cancel it but not as a response to the American Congress," he told Reuters. 

The tension over whether Iraqi lawmakers should take their holiday underscores how events are moving much faster in Washington than in Baghdad. 

U.S. President George W. Bush, who is sending 30,000 extra troops to Iraq for a security crackdown seen as a last ditch effort to stave off civil war, is under mounting pressure from Democrats to show concrete progress in the four-year-old war. 

The offensive, mainly focused on Baghdad, aims to give Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki time to push through the laws, restore government services and adopt other measures to heal divisions between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs who were dominant under Saddam. 

But with General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, set to make an assessment of the "troop surge" in September, that does not leave much time on the political front for progress, especially if MPs take their break as scheduled. 

A simple majority in parliament could alter the recess, lawmakers said. 

DON'T BE HASTY 

Abbas al-Bayati, a senior lawmaker in the ruling Shi'ite Alliance, said the demands for scrapping the holiday had sparked resentment and he suggested that hastily passing laws could create problems in the future. 

"Only we can decide the importance of the drafts and whether they should be passed urgently or whether there should be adequate time for detailed discussions," he said. 

The legislation has fallen hostage to sectarian and ethnic infighting. 

A bill to share Iraq's oil wealth hit a hurdle after oil-rich Kurdistan said it objected to its annexes as unconstitutional. The oil minister says the draft has been submitted to parliament, although officials in the legislature say they have not seen it. 

Maliki's government also agreed a plan to allow thousands of former members of Saddam's party to return to public jobs as a way of taking the heat out of the Sunni Arab insurgency. 

But the bill has not yet gone to parliament and there is likely to be fierce opposition from Shi'ites, long oppressed during Saddam's rule. 

Saleem al-Jubouri, spokesman for the Sunni Accordance Front and a lawmaker, said he favoured a one-month recess. 

"But this is an Iraqi parliament matter. We will decide according to the people's interest," he said. 

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