Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Groups call for direct elections

BAGHDAD, 19 February 2004 (IRIN) - The president of the Iraqi Lawyer's Association in Baghdad believes that direct elections are the only legitimate way to transfer power back to Iraq from the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.

"I am encouraging direct elections," Malak Dohan al-Hassen al-Hassan told IRIN, as he smoked cigarettes and sipped tea in his office in the Mansour district of Baghdad. "In our country, we need a legal basis to negotiate with the occupying power. This belongs fully to the Iraqi people."

Al-Hassan explained, as a fellow lawyer listened, that an interim government would lack the legitimacy of an elected government in the eyes of the Iraqi people. "We want to see a government that is representative of the Iraqi people," al-Hassan said. "Elections are the only way to create this," he added.

The President of the Lawyers Association's views on transferring power mirror those of leading religious and political figures in Iraq, as well as many Iraqis on the streets.

Leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who resides in the southern holy city of Najaf, has called for direct elections and has issued statements that oppose handing over power to a transitional government after 30 June, as planned by the US coalition.

Al-Sistani has demanded that an elected assembly ratify any temporary constitution and that an elected legislature decide on the status of US and other foreign forces here after the transfer of power. The Iraqi Tribal Confederation, which represents over 3,000 tribes and families from Kurdish, Shi'ite and Sunni sects throughout Iraq, also advocates elections.

"We hear from our people that they want to have fair elections," Abd al-Amer al-Sadi, the deputy president of the confederation, told IRIN. "We are preparing for this and mobilising our people in the country's 18 provinces."

But the US administration has different views and believes Iraq will not be ready for direct elections in the near future.

The Bush administration aims to hold regional caucuses that would choose an interim government to assume sovereignty by 30 June. Under this plan, Iraqis would hold elections by March 2005 to select people to write a constitution, but elections for a new government would not be held until December 2005.

US government officials appear determined to pass sovereignty to an Iraqi institution this summer to show progress in Iraq, where US soldiers are suffering daily casualties and the reconstruction process is moving at a snail's pace.

US civil administrator, Paul Bremer, has said that direct elections would only be possible when there was a new constitution, improved security and a census of Iraq's population. Lakhdar Brahimi, who led a recent UN team assessing the feasibility of early elections in Iraq, holds similar views.

Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, told a press conference on 13 February that there were too many crucial steps needed for an election to happen by the handover date in June. "I think we have agreed that the timing should not be a prisoner to any deadlines," Brahimi said. "Elections should be held as early as possible but not earlier than possible."

He made his remarks on behalf of a UN fact-finding team that ended its work last week and called for a compromise between the US-led coalition's proposed caucus system and demands for direct elections by al-Sistani.

Brahimi also warned the country faced "very serious dangers" if it was unable to find a way to bridge differences between religious and ethnic groups. "Civil wars are started because people are reckless, people are selfish, because people think more of themselves than they do of their country," Brahimi said.

But al-Hassan and al-Sadi dismiss the reasons for delaying the elections and believe direct polling is the best option to prevent civil strife in Iraq's ethnic and religious melting pot. "If we have free elections, every party will want to participate," al-Hassan said. "Another method will give special privileges to particularly parties. The best way to bring the nation together is by holding elections."

Al-Sadi also argued that the call for elections reverberates among the Sunni and Shi'ite Iraqis the confederation represents. "Forget about the differences between the two," he said. "Kurds, Shi'ite, Sunni, Christians, even Yazidis want fair and free elections."

Al-Hassan argued that throughout much of Iraq there was enough security to get voters to ballot boxes. "We have problems in the Sunni areas. They are fighting for independence. But in the north it is safe and there are only a few incidents in the south," he said. "Iraq is ready for elections," al-Hassan stressed.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights




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