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UN Says Iraqi Elections on Track for January - 2004-05-04

The head of U.N. team charged with organizing Iraq's national elections says preparations for the January vote are ahead of schedule. An Iraqi election commission and an international supervisor are likely to be in place to oversee the process by the end of this month.

U.N. Electoral Assistance Division Chief Carina Perelli describes the job of holding simultaneous provincial, regional and national elections in Iraq as 'the queen of all headaches'. It is a country with little history of democracy. Moreover, instability in five electoral districts makes it impossible to begin preparations there.

In spite of these handicaps, Ms. Perelli says the process of organizing the vote is a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule. Nominations for election commissioners are being accepted at offices operated by the U.S. and British-led Coalition Authority, and Ms. Perelli expects a panel of seven distinguished Iraqis to be named this month to oversee the election.

In addition, the United Nations will appoint one prominent international figure to serve as a non-voting election commission chief. That person, too, should be in place by May 31.

Ms. Perelli says on her recent assessment mission to Baghdad, she encountered overwhelming support for elections from almost every segment of Iraqi society. "What I found is incredible eagerness to go to elections, more so than in the majority of the other transition processes I've been in, in the sense of basically saying it is a way of stopping the rest of world from making decisions for us, it is a way of stopping a few making decisions in our name without having consulted us," she says. "So the consensus I have seen in terms of consensus to determine who are representative voices of Iraq, it is extremely strong, and across the board."

Ms. Perelli says U.N. staff still face a massive job of civic education to help ordinary Iraqis understand what is at stake in the vote. She said the process is beginning, but a lot more needs to be done.

"What is at stake is whether this election is resolved by ballots or by bullets, and it's going to be part of the responsibility of Iraqi citizens to also mobilize to defend their election if sufficient warranties have been provided for this electoral process so that they can make it their own," says Ms. Perelli.

Ms. Perelli estimates the cost of staging the election at between $250 million and $260 million, to be paid mostly out of funds provided by the coalition. Those costs, she said, could be considerably higher if Iraqis living outside the country are allowed to vote.