In the it's about time category there seems to be some movement towards national political reconciliation in Iraq. In today's New York Times Alissa Rubin reports that Iraq's parliament approved three measures - the 2008 budget, a law outlining the scope of provincial powers and an amnesty that would apply to thousands of the detainees held in Iraqi jails.
More than any previous legislation, the new initiatives have the potential to spur reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites and set the country on the road to a more representative government, starting with new provincial elections.
The voting itself was a significant step forward for the Parliament, where even basic quorums have been rare. In a classic legislative compromise, the three measures, each of which was a burning issue for at least one faction, were packaged together for a single vote to encourage agreement across sectarian lines.
Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan and Zaid Sabah explained what this legislative package held for Sunni, Shia and Kurdish political parties.
Sunni politicians wanted the amnesty law because Sunnis make up the vast majority of detainees in Iraq's jails. Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the largest Sunni political bloc, said the law would "free a huge number of innocent detainees who spent a long time inside the prisons." Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody, he added, would be transferred to Iraqi prisons so they would be covered by the law.
The Kurds were pleased with the budget because it allocated 17 percent of the nation's revenue to their regional government. Sunni and Shiite lawmakers had sought to lower the Kurds' share to 14 percent, in their belief that Kurds make up as little as 13 percent of the country's population. But the Kurds reacted furiously to the proposal.
Shiites have long wanted provincial elections because they want power to devolve to the provinces and away from the central government. The law passed Wednesday had initially stated that voting would begin Oct. 1. But details on that law, as well as the two other measures, were unclear because last-minute changes had been made to the drafts, officials said.