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Iraqi Elections Could be Held by Year's End, Report Says
Brahimi mission says work must begin immediately on electoral process


United Nations -- Credible elections cannot take place in Iraq by June 30, but if preparations begin soon legislative elections could be held by the end of 2004 or early 2005, a special U.N. fact finding mission has reported.

The report to the Iraqi Governing Council, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and U.N. Security Council was prepared by U.N. special advisor Lakhdar Brahimi after a weeklong visit to Iraq.

In the report Brahimi said that a minimum of eight months is needed to prepare for elections after the legal framework has been completed. For elections to take place at the end of 2004 or beginning of 2005, basic agreement on the electoral law has to be reached by May 2004, and an independent Iraqi Electoral Commission should be established "without further delay," he said.

"If work was started immediately and the required political consensus was reached fairly rapidly, it would be possible to hold elections by the end of 2004" to elect one assembly that could act as both a legislative and a constitutional assembly, Brahimi wrote.

"The challenges of working out a legitimate political process that will lead to a democratically elected government are enormous," he said. "Establishing security throughout the country, building trust with the Iraqi people, drafting a constitution, and building consensus among different Iraqi factions are formidable problems."

He pointed out that not one of the three major conditions for holding elections -- a legal framework, an institutional framework, and resources
-- has been met, and there is considerable disagreement over the most fundamental aspects.

"The mission found that most of the debate centered on operational aspects, such as voter lists, while overlooking the legal, political, and security framework without which an election cannot take place," Brahimi said.

Those problems will confront the United Nations as well if it moves in to play a more important role in the political process in Iraq, the U.N. special envoy said. "The international legitimacy of the United Nations is not enough by itself to ensure the success of the process. Much will depend on the role of the Iraqis and their willingness to compromise in the interests of their nation rather than for sectoral or individual interests."

Brahimi reported that "virtually every Iraqi with whom the mission met stressed that the date of 30 June 2004 (for the transfer of sovereignty) is a deadline that must be respected."

By the end of the U.N. mission, he said, a consensus was forming that "it would be extremely difficult and perhaps even hazardous to try to organize general elections before 30 June 2004. There was equally a consensus that the caucus system as currently conceived was not a viable option."

Nevertheless, he said, there is no agreement as yet on how to select a provisional government.

The mission "facilitated the emergence among Iraqis of a wide measure of agreement on the need for direct national elections, to be prepared and held under optimal technical, security, and political conditions," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a preface to the report. "There remain, however, a number of important outstanding questions. These include the choice of a transitional mechanism that would enjoy the broadest support among Iraqi constituencies and how to implement such a mechanism."

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte said February 24 that several important points emerged from the report as well as from a Security Council discussion, including the importance of adhering to the June 30 date for the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and the importance of national elections "at the right time and under the right conditions."

Another important development, Negroponte told journalists after the public council meeting on Iraq, is the fact that this discussion took place "in a very constructive atmosphere."

Negroponte and British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry briefed the Security Council on activities in Iraq in the past three months in the areas of security and stability, governance, the termination of the oil-for-food program, and disarmament.

The Security Council received Brahimi's report February 23.

"For those of us in the international community who are actively involved in Iraq's transition, progress is not always as rapid as we would have hoped," Negroponte said. "Despite this sober assessment, this is a time of hope for Iraq. Even in the three months since our last update, much has been accomplished and, despite efforts at sabotage, steady progress is visible."

Negroponte cited as major accomplishments: the Transitional Administrative law that will govern Iraq during the transition to full democracy is nearing completion; Iraqis are working with each other and the international community to plan the political process; the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the Facilities Protection Service, and the Iraqi Armed Forces have more than doubled in size; and Saddam Hussein is in custody and will undergo due process for crimes committed against the Iraqi people and humanity.

"In sum, after decades of oppression, we see the Iraqi people asserting their own vision for Iraq by assuming greater responsibility for security, by managing their natural resources for the benefit of all, and by taking the first steps toward representative democracy," the U.S. ambassador said.

In his report Brahimi also said that "across the political and social spectrum, there was near unanimous agreement that the United Nations should act as a facilitator of (the election) process, providing technical assistance when required and also helping form a consensus on the various issues under discussion."

An improved security situation is a precondition for elections, Brahimi said.

"Lack of security could lead to major disturbances, undermining the administration of the elections, altering the established timetable and compromising the overall credibility of the process," he said, adding that the political environment must respect the rights of candidates, parties and voters, ensure free campaigning, and guarantee free speech and freedom of assembly during the elections.

Solving the timing of the election gives Iraqis and the CPA the opportunity and space to engage in a more focused dialogue on the mechanism by which sovereignty will be transferred on June 30, Brahimi said.

The U.N. special envoy said that the U.N. will be willing to help build a consensus among Iraqis on the specific powers, structure, and composition of the provisional governing body as well as provide advice and technical assistance on elections.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that "in terms of elections we hope very much that a mission will go back to Iraq very soon to start the preparatory work."

The British envoy said that there is enough direction in existing Security Council resolutions on Iraq "to actually permit that role to unfold" without further council action.

Security Council members are "looking forward to an increased United Nations role" and the CPA "very much welcomes that," he said.

Other members of the Brahimi mission were Carina Perelli, director of the electoral assistance division of the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, and Carlos Valenzuela and Sean Dunne, political affairs officers in the division; Jamal Benomar, a special advisor to the U.N. Development Program; and Sadiq Abu Nafissa, senior political affairs officer of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq.

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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