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Iraqi Parliament Passes Provincial Elections Bill


After months of debate and dispute, Iraq's parliament has approved legislation to hold provincial elections in most of the country.

Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill that calls for the elections to be held by January 31, several months later than originally planned.

U.S. President George Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the move, saying it will contribute to political reconciliation in Iraq.

The measure was adopted after Iraqi lawmakers agreed to postpone voting in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and the three autonomous Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq.

Kirkuk has been the focus of a power-sharing dispute among the city's ethnic Kurds, Arabs and other minorities. Iraqi lawmakers accepted a U.N. proposal for a multi-ethnic committee to review the Kirkuk dispute and prepare for local elections there by March.

The White House says President Bush spoke on the phone Wednesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Parliament Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani to congratulate them on the bill's passage.

Al-Mashhadani says the approval of the legislation reflects the will of the Iraqi people and shows that Kirkuk has become a symbol of Iraqi unity.

Before the bill becomes law, it must be approved by Iraq's three-member presidential panel, which includes a Shi'ite Arab, Sunni Arab and Kurd. Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers' support of the bill makes it more likely to be accepted by the panel than a previous measure.

Washington has been pressing Iraqi leaders to take advantage of a drop in violence to four-year lows to boost reconciliation efforts.

Despite security gains in much of Iraq, insurgents continue to carry out large-scale attacks in the eastern province of Diyala. Gunmen ambushed a group of Iraqi policemen and anti-al-Qaida fighters in Diyala Wednesday, killing at least 20 of them.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.