As rumors and reports of various deals over Kirkuk and other controversial issues continue to swirl, it appears that the Iraqi election commission has decided to postpone the provincial elections from October 1 to the end of the year (December 22). I say 'appears', because different reports offer different degrees of certainty. The Associated Press says that
"Iraq's election authorities say there is not enough time to hold important provincial balloting on schedule by October. A statement Sunday from the Election Commission proposes moving the voting from October 1st to late December."
"Proposes" does not mean that the proposal will be accepted (see below). Reuters has it as "Iraq's Electoral Commission said on Sunday time was running out to hold provincial elections this year because of parliament's delay in passing legislation needed for the poll." But it quotes Faraj al-Haidari, head of the IHEC, saying that "We need at least three months after the law is passed to prepare so polling can be up to international standards.... Even if the law is passed in the coming days, we will only be able to vote at the end of the year. Any more delay and we won't be able to have elections this year."
The longer account in Aswat al-Iraq quotes Hamdiya al-Husseini, a member of the commission, saying that the high electoral commission 'decided to postpone' the elections and that this applies whether or not the Parliament manages to pass the election law next week. Without offering more details, al-Husseini suggested that the UN agreed with the decision as necessary to guarantee the integrity and procedural mechanisms of the elections. But apparently, changing the date of the election would also require a new law since the October 1 date is written in to existing legislation.
This isn't entirely new, of course. While Iraqi politicians have continued to argue over whether the elections would be held on the October 1 date, people working on the elections have been saying for months that they would have to be delayed because of the long failure to pass a law. Crucially, it's not clear whether the IHEC decision - or recommendation, as the case may be - will be binding on the government.
As I wrote earlier this week about the debates over the election law, better that these elections be done right than that they be done on an arbitrary schedule. There's little substantive difference between October 1 and the end of December, other than the former might generate a 'purple finger' moment to influence the American election campaign (which really shouldn't be a consideration either way - though the risk of violence around the provincial elections should also be taken into account by those who do). At the same time, a lot of actors - especially, but not only, the various 'Awakenings' groupings - have been impatiently waiting for these elections to get the share of power to which they feel entitled... so hopefully they won't be postponed too long. Hopefully they will just set a new, realistic but hard date, pass an electoral law acceptable to all trends, and then make provisions for serious international monitoring. I know, I know, here I go with my optimism again... sorry 'bout that.