After weeks of hard-nosed negotiations, analysts say the election law passed by Iraq's parliament allowing national polls to go forward in January extends compromises to all sides but with key concessions to the Kurds.
However, analysts warn the bill also sidesteps a decision on the ultimate fate of Kirkuk _ a city claimed by both Kurds and Arabs that had been a major stumbling block to the law's passage _ and ensures more battles over the city in the future.
"Because there was pressure to pass the law and have the election, they are just pushing this issue under the carpet," said Mustafa Alani from the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "I don't see a clear solution to this problem here."
Haggling over Kirkuk had repeatedly stalled the law's passage, and further delay threatened to undermine Iraq's fledgling democracy and derail a U.S. plan to withdraw its troops.
Kurds consider Kirkuk a Kurdish city and want it incorporated into their self-ruled region in northern Iraq, something the Arab-led central government adamantly opposes.
Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of Kurds were kicked out of the city to make Kirkuk predominantly Arab. Since Saddam's fall, thousands of Kurds have flooded back, but Arabs claim there are more than ever before.
The legislation passed Sunday allows the vote in Kirkuk to be held just like in other regions around the country. However, if lawmakers suspect there was a more than 5 percent annual increase in population in a disputed area, including Kirkuk, they can vote to create a committee to investigate and eventually contest the election results in a given district.
This solution addresses Arab and Turkomen claims that Kurds have packed the city in an attempt to tip the scales.
But analysts say the Kurds also notched a victory by having the elections carried out on the basis of 2009 voter lists, which likely reflect Kurdish increases in the city, instead of the 2004 records that Arabs have generally favored.
"I think probably the Kurds won out on this one," said Marina Ottoway of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for Peace. "I think it will be very difficult to invalidate the election."
The law specifies the way the Kirkuk issue was settled will not be binding for future decisions on the disputed city. However, the legislation appears to set the stage for further disputes over interpretation and implementation of the law.
On Monday, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission submitted a proposal to Iraq's presidency council to hold the elections on Jan. 21, five days after the previously scheduled date, commission chief Faraj al-Haidari said. It must now be approved by the presidential council.
The commission also determined there should be 323 seats in the next parliament, up from 275, Al-Haidari said.
U.S. officials had followed the election debate closely for any sign it might affect the withdrawal of American combat troops, which Washington has tied to the vote. After the vote, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said the drawdown was on schedule.
Under President Barack Obama's plan, all combat troops will leave the country by the end of August 2010. The remaining 50,000 trainers and support troops would leave by the end of 2011.
With violence down sharply nationwide, Washington now hopes the January vote will help bolster Iraq's fragile democracy. While many Iraqis are happy with the improved security situation, frustrations remain over the lingering violence, corruption and poor public services.
The U.S. pushed hard Sunday for lawmakers to reach a compromise on the legislation. And while the deal may not be perfect for everyone, all of Iraq's major political groupings appear at least satisfied with it and have said they will take part in the elections.
That stands in stark contrast to Iraq's first post-invasion parliamentary vote in January 2005, when Sunnis boycotted the polls, which helped fuel anger and a spiraling insurgency and bloodshed that engulfed the country for two years.
"They all seem to be happy _ in that sense it does seem to be a true compromise," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group.
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.