Problems mount for Iraqi vote
A UN memo details added concerns about registration and security before election Jan. 30.
Planning an election is difficult even under the best of circumstances. As one United Nations consultant remarked, it's "the largest logistical operation that a country undertakes outside warfare." To pull it off, many postconflict nations need at least a year.Skip to next paragraph
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Iraq is aiming for eight months.
But with election day less than five weeks away, the Iraqi effort to choose 18 provincial councils and a 275-member National Assembly that will appoint a central government and draft Iraq's constitution is facing serious logistical problems. The short time frame, coupled with the insurgency, is forcing Iraq's election commission to sacrifice both voter education and the safeguards necessary for a fair election. The logistical hurdles also raise questions about the legitimacy of the Jan. 30 vote.
A new memo from the chief UN election official in Iraq, obtained by the Monitor, spells out an array of serious challenges:
• The number of new voter registrations is below expectations.
• Even though polling centers are likely to be attacked, Iraq's election commission is asking to use schools as voting sites, and trying to draft teachers and school administrators to work the polls on election day.
• A security assessment found that the warehouses for storing ballots in some provinces are not "fully defendable" in case of attack.
• The $55 million program for out-of-country voting by Iraqi expatriates has faced "significant delays." Fourteen countries are scrambling to allow eligible Iraqi exiles to vote in the Jan. 30 election.
One of the few bright spots is the number of people who are running for office. Preliminary figures showed close to 19,000 candidates, 6,239 of whom were competing for National Assembly seats.
But in Anbar province, where the violence-torn cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are located, there are only 43 candidates competing for a 41-seat provincial council.
"While there is no technical reason ... to cancel the election (as there are more candidates than seats)," said the memo, "the board is carefully studying the situation to determine whether that election should go ahead as planned."
On Monday, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni Muslim political group, announced it was pulling out of the election, citing the same types of concerns outlined in the memo: difficult security and lack of public education about the vote.
Iraq's election commission has been hampered from the beginning by a violent insurgency. In July, one of the seven commission members resigned due to safety concerns. (The commission has seven Iraqi members and two nonvoting UN advisers.)
By September, the commissioners were still "begging" international agencies for funds to protect themselves and their families, according to an international consultant who asked not to be named.
"When the election commissioners are asking the UN to find a donor for your election commission's security, that's a big problem," said the consultant. "How does that allow you to focus on your work, if you have to worry about your family members being threatened?"