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Iraq sets long-awaited election date

  • Iraqi sets March 6, 2010 as date of delayed parliamentary elections
  • Lawmakers struck deal Sunday to revise elections law which had held up process
  • U.S. military will keep current troop levels of 115,000 until 60 days after vote
  • Residual force of up to 50,000 troops would be left in the country until late 2011
  • Iraq
  • Tariq al-Hashimi
  • Sunni Islam

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq has finally set a date for elections -- seen as a critical step toward the withdrawal of U.S. troops -- Iraqi officials said Tuesday.

They will be held March 7, a spokesman for the three-member presidential council told CNN.

A presidential decree on the new election date will be issued Wednesday, spokesman Nasir al-Ani said.

The date he named is a day later than the date announced earlier Tuesday by the head of the country's Independent High Electoral Commission.

"After intensive discussion with the presidential council we've all agreed on March 6, 2010, to be the new date for the parliamentary elections," Faraj al-Haidari told CNN.

There has been intense wrangling in parliament over the passage of an election law, and one of the country's vice-presidents vetoed an earlier version of the legislation, pushing back a vote that had been planned for January.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hailed the passage of the election law Monday.

The elections law could strengthen national unity and help "achieve the aspirations of our people" to establish a democratic system ensuring rights for Iraqis "to live in dignity, justice and equality," the prime minister said in a congratulatory statement to Iraqis.

Iraqi lawmakers struck a deal Sunday night to revise the country's elections law after months of disputes that forced a delay of the country's upcoming parliamentary vote.

Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, vetoed a previous measure, but al-Hashimi spokesman Abdul Ellah Kadim told CNN that the vice president is satisfied with the revisions that passed late Sunday. Kadim said al-Hashimi has congratulated the Iraqi people and the lawmakers on their "achievement."

Al-Hashimi argued that the version he vetoed in November failed to provide enough seats for Iraqi refugees, many of whom are Sunnis.

The parliament passed an "explanatory memorandum" to the new elections law shortly before midnight Sunday in an urgent session called by the speaker of the parliament. The amendment brought the legislation in line with al-Hashimi's demands, Kurdish lawmaker Abdulbari al-Zebari told CNN.

The explanatory memorandum includes a count of government representation: 325 parliament seats -- 310 seats for the provinces and 15 compensational seats. Ethnic minorities will receive eight of the compensational seats and the Kurds will receive three additional seats in parliament.

The United Nations last week suggested the elections be held February 27. U.N. and U.S. officials have been involved in election talks to push for a compromise among Iraqi politicians.

For the U.S. military, the election is an important step in plans for a withdrawal from Iraq.

The U.S. military has said it would keep the current troop levels of 115,000 until 60 days after the elections and then start the pullout, aiming for an end-of-August deadline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.

A residual force of up to 50,000 troops would be left in the country until complete withdrawal at the end of 2011.

Last month, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he had "flexibility" in this matter and did not have to make any decisions on withdrawal until late spring.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.