- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

BAGHDAD (Agence France-Presse) — Ahmed Chalabi, acting president of the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council, said yesterday that it is essential to hold elections in January as scheduled and expressed satisfaction with his talks with a visiting U.N. team.

Asked whether the interim Governing Council would meet the target date of Jan. 31 for holding parliamentary elections, he told AFP: “It is absolutely essential to meet the target date for the election. … Legitimacy must be restored.”

Mr. Chalabi has been acting council president in the absence of Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, who holds the post until the end of the month but has been away on visits to Japan and China.

“It is not at all feasible to continue for very long ruling Iraq without an elected body,” Mr. Chalabi added. “We must have a permanent constitution and an elected government; otherwise, the political process will be stymied.”

Mr. Chalabi, a Shi’ite Muslim and Pentagon favorite on the Governing Council, also gave a positive assessment of his talks on Monday with the U.N. team led by Carina Perelli, an aide to U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr. Brahimi is also due here shortly.

“We were very satisfied with the talks. We covered the technical points of the election, the mandate of the United Nations,” he said.

“It was made very clear by Mrs. Perelli that the election in Iraq must be a national issue, and that the role of the U.N. is to assist us on a technical basis and to put at our disposal their experience in this regard,” he added.

Both the United States and many Governing Council members want the United Nations to advise on the plans for a caretaker government and elections in the hope that it will bestow legitimacy on the process both at home and abroad.

But Mr. Chalabi earlier indicated through a spokesman that he was opposed to a major U.N. role.

The United Nations faces demands from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, that it disregard the interim constitution meant to govern the running of the caretaker administration.

Ayatollah al-Sistani has threatened to boycott talks with the U.N. delegation unless it accepts that the interim constitution signed this month should be nonbinding.

Mr. Chalabi, however, said Ayatollah al-Sistani is “totally committed to elections.”

“He supports the promulgation of a permanent constitution as soon as possible,” said Mr. Chalabi, adding that the Shi’ite spiritual leader sees the transitional law as a tool “to fortify a guarantee for elections” as planned.

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