Iraq council gives minorities limited provincial seats

Iraq's executive council on Saturday ratified a much-debated bill that gives Iraqi religious minorities fewer guaranteed seats on provincial councils than the U.N. mission in Iraq had recommended.

The executive council – President Jalal Talabani and the country's two vice presidents – agreed with parliament that the country's religious minorities, which include three-quarters of a million Christians, should be guaranteed just six of the 440 seats on the provincial councils, half what the United Nations proposed.

An election for the councils is scheduled next year. Some Christian leaders are threatening a boycott, because they say the number of guaranteed seats will leave them underrepresented. Besides Christians, the country's religious minorities include Yazidis, Sabeans and Shabaks.

Talabani on his Web site Thursday had hinted that he might veto the bill. But it passed unanimously in the executive council, giving Christians one seat on councils in Baghdad, Nineveh and Basra, instead of the three seats in Baghdad, three in Nineveh and one in Basra that had been recommended by the United Nations. Yazidis will be given one guaranteed seat in Nineveh, instead of the three proposed by the United Nations. The Sabeans will get one seat in Baghdad, and the Shabaks will get one seat in Nineveh.

Although minorities can run for other seats, Iraqis have in the past voted along sectarian lines.

Younadim Kanna, one of two Christians in parliament, called the executive council's decision “very disappointing.”

“Their sweet speeches to us turned out to be useless,” Kanna said. “We thought that they would compensate for what was done to us by other major political entities.”

A vast majority of Iraq's approximately 28 million people are Muslim, and many Christians have been persecuted and displaced over the last five years.