Iraq Parliament Approves Budget amid Kurd Boycott

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Iraq's parliament approved on Thursday a $119.1 billion (91.6 billion euro) budget for 2013 after weeks of delay, but Kurdish representatives and most members of the main Sunni-backed bloc did not attend, MPs said.

Parliament has struggled to pass even key legislation such as the budget due to political disputes that have deadlocked the body.

"The vote was held today on all the articles of the budget," Ali Shlah, an MP from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, told Agence France Presse.

There were 168 out of 325 MPs present at the time of the vote, Shlah said, explaining that Kurdish MPs and about three-quarters of those from the secular, Sunni backed Iraqiya bloc did not attend.

MP Alaa Talabani told AFP the Kurdish representatives stayed away because they consider the amount of money allocated in the budget to pay foreign oil companies operating in autonomous Kurdistan to be insufficient -- a long-running dispute between the region and Baghdad.

And Iraqiya is at odds with Maliki over its accusations against him of authoritarianism and sectarianism.

Rafa al-Essawi, a leading Sunni and Iraqiya member who served as finance minister, announced his resignation at an anti-government protest earlier this month.

Shlah said the budget contains additions from the version approved by the cabinet last October, including salaries for anti-al-Qaida Sahwa militiamen.

Officials said in January that those salaries would be increased, a measure aimed at placating demonstrators who have held weeks of protests against the government in Sunni areas of western and northern Iraq.

The budget allocates about $16.9 billion, or 14.1 percent of the total, to security and defense, according to parliament's website.

While the security situation in Iraq has improved significantly compared to past years, attacks remain common, killing 220 people in February, according to an AFP tally based on security and medical sources.

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