BAGHDAD, Feb 27, 2008 (AFP) — Iraq's three-member presidency council has rejected a draft law to hold provincial elections and returned it to parliament, the president's office said on Wednesday.
The presidency approved two laws concerning the 2008 federal budget and a general amnesty, but "the law to hold provincial elections has not been approved and has been sent back to the parliament," the statement said.
The three bills formed a flagship package of legislation seen as crucial to reconciliation efforts but which had been held up for months amid sectarian feuding in parliament.
The elections law had been championed by the Shiite majority while the budget in its current form had been strongly backed by the Kurds and the amnesty law by the Sunnis.
Nasir al-Ani, the spokesman of the presidency council, said the provincial election bill was rejected as some aspects were in contradiction with the constitution.
The White House played down the rejection of the bill.
"We believe that the Iraqis will be able to work it out," spokeswoman Dana Perino said told reporters in Washington.
"While we would have liked to have it go forward without any complications, this is democracy at work in Iraq."
The bill is expected to boost the powers of the provinces to launch their own economic projects with the money allocated by the central government.
Adoption of the three bills had been among 18 "benchmarks" set by Washington to measure the pace of political reconciliation in Iraq, which is still plagued by a deadly insurgency and sectarian conflict.
The 48-billion-dollar state budget had been due to be adopted before the end of last year but had been held up amid bickering between Iraq's rival Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni blocs which each championed one of the three flagship bills.
Iraqi MPs have said in the past that the amnesty bill would not apply to those sentenced to death or convicted of terrorism, premeditated murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, incest, drug trafficking, forgery, rape, sodomy or the smuggling of antiquities.
It will also not apply to anyone formally charged with these crimes.
It would however apply to as many detainees as possible including those held for corruption and other financial crimes.
Around 24,000 detainees are held in two US prisons and thousands more in Iraqi-run detention centres. Most of them are Sunni Arabs.
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