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UN: Arrangements for Iraq Election in Place


United Nations elections officers say all arrangements are in place for Iraq's national assembly elections. Officials are cautiously optimistic that Iraqi voters will brave the danger and cast their ballots.

U.N. electoral assistance division chief Carina Perelli says she is amazed at how far Iraq's election commission has come.

Eight months ago, the commission did not exist. Sunday, it is staging an election with more than 18,000 candidates and 14 million registered voters. More than 200,000 Iraqis have signed up to be poll workers or monitors for the vote.

Now, Ms. Perelli says it is up to Iraqis to decide whether it is worth risking their lives to support the democratic process.

"The Iraqi citizens are faced with a very tough decision of basically having to confront their fears and confront their hopes and decide by themselves whether they consider that this election is important enough, is valid enough, legitimate enough in order to risk their lives to go and vote," she said.

Ms. Perelli, who has previously helped to organize elections in places like El Salvador, East Timor and Afghanistan, says she is hopeful of a good turnout in Iraq.

"I would say that participation might be higher than expected. But I'm not betting my salary on that," she added.

Ms. Perelli said she is concerned about threats of violence, but declined to characterize Sunday's election as the most dangerous she has seen.

"Is this the first time we see an election under bullets? No,” she noted. “And if it's not under bullets, in East Timor it was under the machete…. Is this the first time electoral workers have been targeted? Unfortunately not… So unfortunately there is no immunity for electoral workers in other parts of the world, either."

U.N. Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast admitted conditions are not ideal, but said "the election is going to happen January 30, that is a fact". At the same time, he cautioned reporters not to see Sunday's vote as the culmination of Iraq's transition to democracy, but as a step along the way.

"These elections shouldn't be seen as a be-all and end-all event. I think we should rather see the 30 of January as an important staging post but only one along an evolving transition," he said.

During the briefing, Mr. Prendergast repeatedly condemned those attempting to disrupt the vote. "Intimidating or murdering voters", he said, "is wrong, and cannot be justified under any circumstances".

The United Nations withdrew all international staff in 2003 after a bomb attack on its Baghdad headquarters that killed 22 people. Citing continuing security concerns, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been reluctant to redeploy staff.

There will be a total of 40 U.N. electoral assistance officers on hand Sunday when the polls open. When asked whether 40 are enough, elections unit chief Perelli said in a ideal world, she would have liked more. But, she said, "we estimated we would need 40, and we have 40.”

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