Baghdad National parliamentary elections will be held Jan. 30, Iraqi officials announced Monday, sliding the date into next year in a move that could complicate the U.S. timetable for drawing down its forces.
The new parliament will choose a prime minister and Cabinet, a process that could take months. A long and turbulent delay in setting up a new government could force President Barack Obama to revise his goal of removing most American troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be hoping to build on his success in last January’s provincial balloting to form a strong government capable of dealing with the security and economic challenges facing this country as the American role fades.
But a recent spate of deadly bombings in Baghdad has tarnished his image, and the threat of more violence could rise as U.S. forces redeploy outside of urban areas by June 30 as scheduled.
The election for the 275-member parliament had been expected in December, four years after the current assembly was chosen. But the current parliament did not hold its first session until March 2006, or about three months after the December 2005 election.
Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said the Federal Court ruled that the current mandate lasts until March 2010 and selected a date 45 days before the expiration.
Some Iraqi politicians had suggested delaying the election for up to a year, giving the prime minister’s Shiite and Sunni rivals who did not fare as well in the provincial elections more time to regroup. Al-Maliki opposed a lengthy delay.
Timing of the election is critical to Obama’s plan to end the American combat role in Iraq next year and withdraw most of the 135,000 U.S. troops by September 2010.
Obama accepted a recommendation by U.S. officials in Baghdad to maintain substantial military forces in Iraq until after the election to help guarantee a safe ballot.
Once the vote is over, the U.S. expects to speed up the troop withdrawal, leaving between 30,000 and 50,000 soldiers here after September 2010 to train Iraqi forces and provide logistical and other support.
All U.S. troops are due to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 under terms of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement that took effect this year.
But Iraq’s political parties are deeply fragmented. An inconclusive election outcome, with no party winning a commanding number of seats, could lead to protracted negotiations where the makeup of the new government remains unclear.