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Jan 22, 7:01 AM EST

Iraqi parliament sets May 12 as date for national elections

AP Photo
AP Photo/Karim Kadim

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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's parliament on Monday set May 12 as the date for holding national elections despite calls from the country's Sunni community to delay the vote until the return of nearly 3 million people displaced by the fight against the Islamic State group.

Shiite lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati said lawmakers at a session in the Shiite-dominated house "unanimously" approved the date proposed by the government.

The deeply-divided parliament failed many times to set the date, prompting the country's Supreme Court to issue a ruling on Sunday against any delay to the elections, the fourth since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The over three-year fight against IS has left most of the Sunni areas in northern and western Iraq in ruins, and poor public services have exacerbated the situation. The Sunnis argue that the current situation will make it hard for Sunni voters to update their information ahead of elections or cast their ballots.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said the government is committed to returning the displaced and to creating a peaceful atmosphere for the elections. All weapons must be in the hands of the government during election campaigns and the voting day, al-Jabouri added.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to lead a "cross-sectarian" list, building on last year's victory against IS. Three separate list - led by Shiite paramilitary troop leaders that fought IS, ex-premier Nouri al-Maliki who currently serves as one of three vice presidents, and followers of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - are expected to be his main rivals.

Despite the declared victory over IS, Iraqi and U.S. officials have warned it will likely to continue with insurgent-style attacks. Last week, two IS suicide attacks killed at least 46 and wounded more than 100.

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