Global Policy Forum

UN Steps Into Iraq Sovereignty

Daily Star
March 30, 2004

Electoral framework must be in place by June, says expert giving technical advice on organizing 2005 polls

Iraqi leaders must agree on a basic electoral framework by the end of May if they are to hold elections as planned in January 2005, a top United Nations expert on elections said Monday. Carina Perelli, head of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, is in Iraq to give technical advice on how to organize an election for a transitional assembly early next year, as stipulated by Iraq's interim constitution.

Any delay in holding elections by the agreed date is likely to spark huge protests among Iraq's majority Shiites who have been pressing for polls as soon as possible. After meeting Iraq's Governing Council on Monday, Perelli said the timetable was very tight, but would be feasible if all basic agreements were in place within two months. She said the most pressing issue was to set up an independent electoral authority that all Iraqis agreed was valid.

"We are all very much aware - ourselves, the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority - that we are working on an extremely tight time frame," Perelli told reporters. "If there's going to be an election by Jan. 31, all the agreements need to be reached no later than the end of May, otherwise the date (for polls) may be compromised."

The team, which started its visit Friday amid political wrangling over the country's interim constitution, will be joined later this week by a UN political delegation headed by special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shiites, has been the most vocal critic of the interim constitution, threatening to boycott talks with the advisers unless the UN declares it nonbinding.

But an aide to the revered cleric said Sistani would not call for protests even if his reservations over the law were ignored. The team will be in Iraq for several weeks and will travel within the country. "We are going to be meeting as large a section of Iraqi society as possible," Perelli said. "This electoral process, which is going to be the first electoral process after a transition from occupation to sovereignty, from a regime of fear to basically a democratic process, belongs to Iraqis."

Perelli said two major concerns ahead of holding polls were educating the electorate and security. "We need to make sure that between now and January there is a modicum of security that will make the Iraqi people feel they can go to the polls, that they can run as candidates without extreme fear, that they don't pull out of the process." She had no current plan to meet Sistani.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday the Security Council was not considering sending a UN peacekeeping force to Iraq, and is working for a multinational force under single command. "I don't believe members of the Security Council are considering setting up a UN peacekeeping force in Iraq. My impression is that they are working for a multinational force under single command, which should cooperate with Iraq's sovereign government and contribute to maintaining security in the country," Annan said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

In another development, US overseer Paul Bremer turned over the keys of the first of Iraq's 25 ministries to interim Health Minister Khidr Abbas at a ceremony. Meanwhile, Newsweek magazine reported the investigative branch of the US Congress is looking into whether Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi broke the law by using US money to attempt to sway US opinion in favor of ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. At issue are tens of thousands of dollars Chalabi and his group received in 2001 and 2002.

Chalabi agreed in writing to use State Department-supplied funds to "implement a public information campaign to communicate with Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq and ... promulgate its message to the international community at large," according to the report. But the terms "strictly exclude" activities "associated with, or that could appear to be associated with, attempting to influence the policies of the United States government or Congress or propagandizing the American people."

Yet the INC itself has admitted to more than 100 news stories containing information collected by State Department-funded INC informants.

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