By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 14, 2008 - The Iraqi government's passage of three bills, including a 2008 budget, marks a historic turning point toward peace, stability and self-governance in the country, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. A provincial powers law represents "an important step toward framing the balance the Iraqi people seek between central government authority and the strengthening of local governments," said a joint statement issued yesterday by Multinational Force Iraq and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The statement called the law a "historic compromise."
The statement, by the top military and diplomatic officials in Iraq, also praised the council for a general amnesty law that addresses the scope of eligibility for amnesty for Iraqis in Iraqi detention facilities. The law will "further encourage reconciliation and respect for the rule of law," the joint statement said.
"There is still much important work ahead for the people of Iraq and their government," the statement continued. "There is also still more to learn about how this legislation will be implemented. Nevertheless, these legislative actions reflect a significant commitment to address important issues and find political bases on which to move forward."
Iraq's Council of Representatives passed a $48 billion budget for 2008 -- a 17 percent increase over the 2007 budget -- that allocates significant increases in funding for security, investments and construction to distribute throughout the country. It also increases the allocation to the Kurdistan regional government from $1.6 billion to $2.7 billion.
The budget is "a significant milestone" in Iraq's transition toward using its own resources to provide for security, economic reconstruction and essential services, according to a White House briefing paper.
The provincial powers law in the legislative package sets in place a framework for Iraq to hold provincial elections by Oct. 1. Under the law, the Council of Representatives has 90 days to pass election laws. Early provincial elections are expected to appeal to Sunni Arabs and others who boycotted the 2005 elections, officials said. The law also delineates the authority of Iraq's central government in Baghdad to its 15 provinces -- a move White House officials called "groundbreaking" in the Middle East region.
Passage of the three bills showed that Iraq's major political parties could work together and make compromises. "We have proven today that Iraqis are just one bloc," Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani said following the votes, according to the White House paper.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the legislation shows that political progress made on the local level is affecting Iraq's national government. "We thought that it would be the national level downward. In some ways, it's been the local level upward that has put pressure on the Iraqi national leaders to be responsive."