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UN Report Concludes 8 Months Needed for Iraq Elections - 2004-02-23

A just-released United Nations report concludes that it will take at least eight months, and probably longer, to organize elections in Iraq. The report to the Security Council from Secretary General Kofi Annan suggests next December or January may be the earliest date a vote can be scheduled.

The 30 page report is the result of a visit to Iraq this month by Mr. Annan's senior adviser Lakhdar Brahimi and a team of U.N. elections experts.

The report's chief author, Carina Perelli of the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division, says it will take about eight months to set up an election. But the eight-month countdown can begin only after a series of conditions have been met.

In addition to the obvious security considerations, Ms. Perelli said Iraq's political players must agree on a set of rules that will make the outcome credible. To do that, they must quickly establish an autonomous and independent elections commission. "We can give what is the minimum time necessary in order to be able to prepare an election once basic agreements are reached. You have to count those eight months if and when Iraqis reach those agreements," she said.

Ms. Perelli said whatever mechanism is established for holding elections, it must demonstrate a complete break with Iraq's past. Otherwise, she said it would have no credibility with ordinary Iraqis.

U.N. officials say Mr. Brahimi is likely to go back to Iraq next month to try to mediate an agreement among the country's deeply divided political factions. Mr. Brahimi's report concludes that if a deal can be reached by the end of May, elections could be held as early as next January.

The report also points out that virtually all Iraqi factions support Washington's June 30 date for handing over power to an Iraqi interim government.

The Bush administration reacted enthusiastically to the U.N. report. Even though the document makes no mention of the U.S. plan for caucuses, White House spokesman Scott Mc Clellan noted that it also effectively ends all talk of elections before the June 30 hand-over date. "We are all in agreement about the feasibility of elections before that date. But we all share a commitment to move forward as quickly as possible on elections. And we appreciate the work of Secretary General Annan and Mr. Brahimi and we are supportive of recommendations they have made in that regard," he said.

Mr. Mc Clellan again welcomed what he called the "vital" U.N. role in Iraq. Secretary General Annan was in Tokyo Monday for talks with senior Japanese officials on a number of topics, including Iraq. Afterward, he told reporters the world body "has always been ready to play its role, on conditions that security will not be an impediment."