Top UN election official in Iraq: Poll preparations going well

The Dec. 28 article "Problems mount for Iraqi vote" suggested that "an array of serious challenges" faces Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission (IECI), as it prepares for the landmark Jan. 30 polls. This is true - but the 40-strong UN elections team advising the IECI and its 1,000 staff members never said that it would be easy. It is unfortunate that your reporter did not contact me before the piece was filed. Had this been done, your audience would have been presented with a different picture of polling day preparations.

The source of the reporter's information could not, as claimed, have been a UN memo, nor an international UN consultant. No formal UN memo exists with the alarmist information your reporter uses, nor do UN elections consultants work in Arbil, where the article was datelined.

Rather, much of the information appears to be a distortion of a Dec. 23 document concerning preparations for the elections that was issued by my office to members of the donor community and others involved in supporting the IECI in its preparations for the elections. A UN memorandum would carry a level of formality not present in the Dec. 23 brief that appears to have been used as a source for the article. In that brief, I was quite clear that despite the challenges, significant progress was being made in preparing for the elections.

For instance, contrary to what the article claimed, voter education work has already begun and an extensive countrywide public information campaign is presently under way.

Nor is it correct to suggest that there has been a "significant reduction" in the number of polling stations to be set up when compared with early estimates. An estimate is just that - a best-possible prediction in the circumstances, with numbers on the high side to ensure that enough resources are available. The approximately 29,000 polling stations now planned will give all eligible Iraqis an opportunity to vote.

The claim that it has been difficult for the commission to recruit workers is also baseless. The IECI currently employs close to 1,000 staff in Iraq. Almost 2,000 Iraqis applied for the IECI's board-level positions, and this level of interest has been mirrored at all levels of the electoral administration. It is indeed true that some polling centers will be located inside schools, and teachers and administrators will be asked to assist, but there will be no element of compulsion, as the article implied.

It is also a complete misrepresentation to suggest that electoral commissioners "begged" for funds to finance protection for themselves and their families. The truth is that international donors asked the UN how they could contribute meaningfully to the IECI, and the commissioners' personal security was identified. As a result, a formal request was made to the UN by the Commission and funding was immediately forthcoming.

It should be noted that in most of the country, technical preparations are proceeding according to plan with appropriate security measures. In Anbar and parts of Nineveh, special arrangements have been made. Details about these plans will be provided at the appropriate moment.

Although circumstances are difficult, elections are, from a technical perspective, on track overall. In large part, this is due to the dedication and commitment shown by IECI staff who are working determinedly for the vote and for their country's future.
Carlos Valenzuela
Amman, Jordan
Chief of Electoral Office, United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and International Observer of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI)

Editor's response: The information that our article attributed to "a new memo from the chief UN election official in Iraq" was taken directly from the text of a Dec. 23 memo sent from Mr. Valenzuela's office.

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