BAGHDAD – The head of Iraq's parliament urged political leaders on Wednesday to swiftly agree on a new election law so that crucial nationwide elections can take place on time.
Parliament Speaker Ayad al-Samarraie said he was confident parliamentary elections set for Jan. 16 will be held on time — despite weeks of political gridlock that comes amid continuing violence as the U.S. seeks to stabilize Iraq and draw down its combat forces.
Iraqi lawmakers remain in a bitter dispute over the new election law that would set out the legal structure for the critical nationwide vote in January. The most contested issue is oil-rich Kirkuk and the division of control over the northern city's vast oil resources between the Kurdish, Arab and Turkomen clans.
The lawmakers have also failed to agree on new voting guidelines that would require ballots to list individual candidates rather than just their party blocs.
Lawmakers have to put aside their differences and swiftly agree on the new law, al-Samarraie told a news conference Wednesday. "The election law needs a political decision," he said.
"I still think that the next parliament election will be held on time," al-Samarraie added.
The speaker's call to lawmakers comes a day after President Barack Obama said he's watching closely the election law debate. Obama told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Washington on Tuesday that the U.S. will hold up to the plan to fully withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Violence continued Wednesday around Iraq.
A bomb killed a journalist and wounded another in northern Iraq, said police Col. Sherzad Mofari in Kirkuk.
The bombing targeted the home of cameraman Orhan Hijran, who worked for Baghdad-based television station Al-Rasheed, Mofari said. The wounded correspondent Mohammed Shahid works for the Cairo-based Al-Baghdadiyah TV.
Jawdat Assaf, the director of Al-Rasheed TV, confirmed Hijran's death.
Media watchdog groups have said Iraq remains the deadliest place for journalists to work despite a decline in violence. At least 139 other journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Also in Kirkuk, gunmen abducted two high school students, the city's police chief said Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Jamal Tahir said the unknown gunmen intercepted the car the two students were riding in on Tuesday night, handcuffed the driver and fled with the victims — one of whom is a son of the city's well known doctor.
A roadside bomb struck a minibus on Wednesday near Hillah, a city about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killing one woman passenger and wounding 11 other people, police spokesman major Muthana Khalid said.