Thursday, February 19, 2004

Popular election

Kofi Annan has decided that a popular election in Iraq would be impoossible before June 30:

UN chief Kofi Annan discounted elections in Iraq before US forces hand over control on June 30, a move that may anger the country's Shiite majority as the power debate heats up.

But Shiite politicians were not rushing to judgement on Annan's prognosis, while tensions on the ground are already high following a wave of violence this month that left more than 200 Iraqis dead.

In the latest unrest, insurgents hammered Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad with 33 mortar bombs and five rockets before US soldiers killed one assailant and detained 55.

"There seems to be general acceptance of the fact that it is not going to be possible to arrange an election between now and the end of June," Annan told Thursday's edition of Japan's biggest-selling daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Elections had to be properly organized and the conditions had to be right with security, and the political and legal instruments ready for the elections, the United Nations secretary general said.

"So I think the conclusion then will have to be that elections before the end of June may not be possible, but there will have to be better organized elections later on," Annan said at UN headquarters in New York.

Annan was due to meet later in the day with his special advisor Lakhdar Brahimi, who led a one-week fact-finding mission to Iraq and has already poured cold water on the Shiites' hopes of elections before June 30, when the US occupation is officially dissolved.

The country's leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has led the call for direct elections and protested against the US-led coalition transferring power to unelected officials.

UN political experts have warned that early elections could favour the more extreme elements in Iraq amid a growing row over the role of Islam in the nation's immediate political future.

Shiite council member Ahmed Shayyah Barak indicated Iraq's Shiites were open to compromise after meeting Sistani Thursday morning in the city of Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad.

"If the UN thinks it is better to hold election much later, then we have no objection to transfering power to an Iraqi body during a transitional period while finding a solution to the technical and security problems," Barak said.

Barak said power could be transfered to the Governing Council or another Iraqi political body after June 30 until elections can be held.

An Iraqi source familiar with the talks between the US-led coalition, UN and the Governing Council said a third option is partial polls in the north and south or transferring power to an enlarged Governing Council.


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