- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Senior members of the Iraqi Governing Council are pressing for national elections before the United States turns over power to Iraqis on June 30, brushing aside a U.N. finding that a fair vote could not be held any earlier than the end of the year.

Members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmed Chalabi, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), led by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, dismissed the argument that technical and security problems are delaying national elections.

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi “admitted that the reason elections could not be held before June 30 is political, not technical,” SCIRI spokesman Hamid al-Bayati said in a telephone interview from Baghdad.

“This means some people are afraid of a Shi’ite majority. It could be the Americans, it could be the Sunnis — he didn’t specify who,” Mr. al-Bayati said. “But they should accept the new facts of a new Iraq.”

INC spokesman Entifad Qanbar said his organization, which has a seat on the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, believes technical and security issues can be solved before the June deadline, and warned that without a vote, any transitional government will lack the legitimacy needed to lead Iraq.

“We will not reach a political consensus without elections,” Mr. Qanbar said. “We believe technical and security problems are solvable before June 30.”

His concern was echoed by Mr. al-Bayati. “Elections should be held before June 30 to guarantee the legitimacy of an elected council that would take over,” he said.

U.N. official Ahmad Fawzi, who traveled with Mr. Brahimi on his recent fact-finding mission to Iraq, said a combination of technical and political factors led the United Nations to conclude elections would not be feasible before the scheduled handover.

In addition to security, said Mr. Fawzi, “you need a political consensus among the parties of what kind of electoral system you want, who you are electing, what will be the framework of these elections. You need this consensus before you draw up an electoral law.”

The INC and SCIRI positions reflect the strong divisions that exist within the Governing Council as well as among Iraqi factions at large as to what to do next.

“They need to sit down and resolve these difficulties,” said Mr. Fawzi, director of the U.N. Public Information Department’s news and media division.

“We were asked to give an opinion. We gave the opinion. It’s now up to them to decide what to do. If they need assistance in achieving political consensus, the U.N. is ready and willing to help.”

But, he said, time was running out. “There is a window of opportunity between now and June 30 that should not be missed, because, as Mr. Brahimi said, the consequences can be grave.”

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, yesterday affirmed the importance of national elections, but said they would need to be held “at the right time and under the right conditions.”

“If the ball got rolling now, elections could be held by the end of this year or some time early next year,” he said.

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