UN calls organizing Iraq elections a "Herculean task"

The UN special representative Iraq elections must be credible and held on time.

Karim Kadim/AP
A security guard hold his rifle as he walks next to an advertising billboard reading in Arabic, 'Updating your statement is your path for voting', in central Baghdad Tuesday.

The United Nations special representative to Iraq appealed on Tuesday to Iraqi officials to meet a series of deadlines in what he called the "Herculean task" of holding national elections in a little more than two months.

"Now there are less than 10 weeks available to organize these elections, which is truly a Herculean task," Ad Melkert told a news conference at the Independent High Election Commission (IHEC). "I hope everyone is aware IHEC is under tremendous pressure to deliver credible elections in a very short period of time."

The Iraqi parliament pushed a final deadline to the brink last week, passing an election law after weeks of negotiations that will allow parliamentary elections to be held in January as mandated by the Iraqi constitution.

Mr Melkert said officials were considering holding the poll on Jan. 18 to ensure it took place before the start of 40 days of mourning observed by Shiite Muslims to commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. Advance voting for Iraqi security forces, who will be out in full force on election day, is expected to be held on Jan. 15.

The vote will be the first national election since the US handed over control of security here to Iraq with the passage of a bilateral security agreement late last year.

Political coalitions have until Friday to register and individual candidates until Nov. 16, election officials said.

In what is shaping up to be one of the most logistically complicated polls overseen by the UN, Melkert also urged patience in awaiting the final election results. Iraqi politicians passed an election law only after agreeing to a complicated formula for voting in Kirkuk and other areas claimed by Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen. In addition, there are new formulas for determining what percentage of the vote is needed for candidates to be awarded one of the 323 seats in parliament.

Nineteen million Iraqis are eligible to vote this time, including three million citizens who were too young to take part in 2005 parliamentary elections. It's expected to take days to count the ballots from the 52,000 polling stations across Iraq.

"Every time there is a strong learning process from a previous occasion and some things are in better place than they were before, at the same time the law has changed in a number of ways and time is very, very short," says Melkert, a former member of parliament in the Netherlands.

Melkert, standing next to senior IHEC officials, also urged the current Iraqi parliament to hold off on any calls for change in the election body until after the election – a reference to a parliamentary inquiry called to investigate charges of corruption.

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