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Starting with the January 30 elections, a number of crucial political events are scheduled to occur in Iraq this year:
January 30: Elections
Iraqis living in Iraq and 14 other countries will vote for 275 members of a new transitional assembly. Iraqis will also vote for 18 provincial governorate councils with 41 members each, except for the Baghdad governorate council, which will have 51 members. Residents of northern Iraq will also vote for 111 members of the Kurdish regional assembly, a semi-autonomous governing body.
After the votes are counted and the results certified--a process election experts say could take up to two weeks--the new transitional assembly will take office. The assembly will choose a president and two deputy presidents from among its members; the three will form a new presidency council. The assembly will then write a permanent constitution to take the place of the current interim constitution. That interim document, known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), went into effect when it was signed on March 8, 2004, by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), a 25-member body appointed by the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority. The IGC disbanded after U.S.-led occupation authorities returned sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, 2004.
August 15: Draft of a permanent constitution completed
If the assembly cannot make this deadline, members can petition the presidency council for a six-month extension; the request for an extension must be made by August 1. The transitional assembly could also choose to amend the TAL--which states that members of the transitional assembly will draft the constitution--and appoint selected Sunnis to drafting committee, even if Sunnis win few or no seats in the January 30 elections. Conditions for voters in Sunni regions of the country are so dangerous that many experts predict low voter turnout in those areas. "That way there’s some wiggle-room" to keep Sunnis involved in the government, says Marina Ottaway, a senior associate and democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
October 15: Public referendum on the draft constitution
Once the constitution is written, there will be a national referendum to approve it. If a majority of Iraqis back the law, elections to select a permanent government will occur in 60 days. If more than two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates reject the draft, the constitution fails. Experts say the Kurds pressed for this two-thirds vote provision, over the objections of the majority Shiites, in order to ensure minority rights would be protected. In the event that the constitution is rejected, the transitional assembly will be dissolved and a new one elected on December 15; it will have one year to try to draft another constitution.
December 15: Elections for a permanent Iraqi government
If the constitution is approved, elections will be held for a permanent Iraqi government. The nature of this new government--presidential or parliamentary, religious or secular--will be determined by the new constitution.
December 31: Permanent Iraqi government takes office
Again, assuming the constitution is approved, a new, permanent government is seated. (If it is not, a new transitional assembly elected December 15 would take office and restart the constitution-writing process.) Experts stress that Iraqis have a lot to do in one year: write a constitution, hold a national referendum, and host multiple elections. This pace may be difficult to maintain, especially if delays occur along the way. In addition, Ottaway warns, the new assembly elected January 30 could choose to alter the TAL, perhaps drastically. "From now on, everything can change," she says.