Iraqi lawmaker attempts to reassure Christians of rights

|PIC1|A senior lawmaker in Iraq spoke on Monday of the "urgent" need to resolve a dispute with the country's tiny Christian community over the removal of a minority quota system in the provincial elections.

Christians in Iraq, who number less than three per cent of the population, fear that last month's decision by the Iraqi parliament to drop the quota system in six of Iraq's 18 provinces will exclude them from the political process.

The deputy speaker of parliament, Khalid al-Attiyah, was quoted by the Associated Press as telling a news conference on Monday, "No political bloc in parliament has the intention of denying small ethnic minorities their constitutional rights.

"There is an urgent need to solve this matter."

The Rev Louis al-Shabi, a preacher at a Chaldean church in Baghdad, said meanwhile, "We do not want to immigrate to the US or Britain - we want to stay in Iraq and have our representatives in both the provincial councils and the legislature. We want to be treated equally as Iraqis living with the Muslims and other nationals in a united brotherly spirit."

The UN last week urged the Iraqi parliament to reinstate article 50, which guarantees minorities a certain number of seats on provincial councils. The Iraqi parliament claimed that Article 50 had been dropped because it was impossible to know the size of the minorities and therefore how many seats they should be allocated.

The head of Iraq's independent electoral commission, Faraj al-Haidari, told AP that preparations for elections would not be finished in time for them to be held before the end of the year. He said, however, that the commission would work towards meeting the legal deadline of January 31.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani gave assurances, meanwhile, that the election law would be modified to accommodate minority representation.

The law "is not consistent with the constitution, nor with what we feel is needed for Iraq", he said, according to AsiaNews.