MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought safeguards on Sunday for Christians and other minorities who have complained that they have lost guaranteed seats in provincial councils under a new election law.
Iraq's parliament passed a much-delayed law last week to allow provincial elections to go ahead, but legislators scrapped a clause known as article 50 that would have guaranteed seats for Christians and other minority sects.
The bill must be approved by a presidency council consisting of President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents before it becomes law. Christian leaders have expressed hope that it can still be amended to guarantee their seats.
"We hoped parliament would approve the draft submitted by the cabinet, which included protection of the representation for minorities according to the constitution," Maliki said in a statement.
Maliki sent a message to parliamentary leaders calling on them and the electoral commission "to find a solution and remove the feeling of worry, a feeling of being oppressed or alienated, which has affected real communities who are proud to be Iraqis."
Hashim al-Taie, head of the regions committee in parliament, said blocs had decided to remove the clause because there was no census to show how many seats should be guaranteed to which group, but that guarantees of seats could be added later.
Iraq's Christian communities, as well as smaller minority sects such as Yazidis in northern Iraq, have tried to stay out of the fray during years of sectarian fighting. But churches have been attacked and two Yazidi villages were struck by truck bombs a year ago in the deadliest strike of the war.
Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of Iraq's Chaldean Catholics, called for the presidency council to intervene.
"I call on the presidency council not to approve the cancellation of article 50 of the provincial law, which is an oppression against our presence and representation in Iraqi society," he said in a television interview on Saturday.
"Parliament is denying our representation," he said, adding that he was speaking on behalf of other Christian denominations as well as the Chaldeans.
Many of Iraq's Christians live in the north, especially around the city of Mosul, in areas where power is often divided between Arab and Kurdish Muslims.
Christians staged demonstrations in towns near Mosul on Sunday calling for their guaranteed seats to be restored.
"Deleting paragraph 50 is unfair and it will pour oil on the fire," Menas al-Yousifi, the head of the Iraqi Christian Democratic party told Reuters in Mosul. "It would deepen the crisis of the Iraqi people."
Shamoun Bazzu, a Christian priest from a town east of Mosul, said: "We demand the Iraqi government and the parliament deviate from the decision and hold with paragraph 50, because this is an oppression against the minority elements in Iraq."
(Reporting by a Reuters correspondent in Mosul and Aws Qusay and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; writing by Peter Graff in Baghdad; Editing by Angus MacSwan)