News24

Iraq poll set for March

2009-12-08 22:43

Baghdad - Iraq's second general election since Saddam Hussein was overthrown will be held on March 7, almost six weeks later than the originally planned date of mid-January, officials said on Tuesday.

The announcement came two days after MPs struck a last-minute deal to get the poll back on track, but the news was overshadowed by five massive car bombs in Baghdad that killed 127 people and wounded 448.

Months of protracted negotiations over a law governing the vote had thrown arrangements for the election into chaos.

The date was agreed after meetings involving the presidency council, made up of President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies, and electoral commission officials.

"There was an agreement to hold the elections on March 6," Talabani's chief of staff Nasser al-Ani told state television.

"But another meeting in the afternoon studied the case and decided to postpone it for one day only until March 7. Tomorrow (Wednesday) the presidential decree will be issued to ratify the electoral law."

Hours earlier, officials had announced that the election would be held on March 6.

The election, which will now fall on a Sunday, the first day of the working week in Iraq, is seen as a crucial step towards consolidating Iraq's democracy and securing a complete US military exit by the end of 2011, as planned.

It had originally been scheduled for January 16, but was delayed because of disagreements over the electoral law.

The date previously mooted by the United Nations - February 27 - clashes with an important Shi'ite religious ceremony and was ruled out.

The threat of political violence linked to the election is a major concern for the Iraqi government and US military. Similar attacks to those on Tuesday in Baghdad in August and October killed more than 250 people.

"We believe that there will be an attempt to conduct more attacks between now and the election," General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said in November.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called Tuesday's attacks a "cowardly" attempt "to cause chaos... and hinder the election", and said they were deliberately timed following the approval of the new electoral law.