BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi lawmakers passed a new election law on Monday after weeks of debate, paving the way for polls to be held next year and allaying fears that they would be delayed due to deteriorating security.
The parliamentary election is seen as a crucial test for Iraq, the world's number four oil exporter last year according to OPEC, which has suffered from political deadlock and violent instability since the departure of U.S. forces in December 2011.
Voting on the election bill had repeatedly been postponed in recent weeks because of a dispute between Arabs and ethnic Kurds, who run their own region in the north of the country.
Vice President Kudhair al-Khuzaie issued a decree on Monday setting April 30 as the date for the parliamentary election.
"The new law was produced by consensus, which makes it fair for all. We don't have any problem with this new law, and all provinces have enjoyed equal rights," parliamentary speaker Usama al-Nujaifi told a news conference.
U.S. President Barack Obama urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a visit to Washington last week to secure approval of the law and hold free and fair elections next year "so people can resolve differences through politics instead of violence".
The law could still in theory be challenged in the Iraqi federal court on constitutional grounds.
(Reporting and writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Kevin Liffey)