IRAQ Leaders push for planning of elections
The U.N. said Iraqis must devise their own plan for a provisional government.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi leaders said today they want to start immediately on planning elections, after the United Nations estimated that it would take eight months to organize a nationwide ballot.
In the meantime, U.N. officials must offer a new method for choosing the provisional government due to take power from the U.S.-led coalition June 30, a prominent Shiite Muslim party said. Shiites led the push for elections before the hand-over date, but the U.N. report issued Monday said the country couldn't hold elections until at least January 2005.
"If there is no election ... then who is going to take over sovereignty from the Coalition Authority? The Iraqi people need to know," said Hamed al-Bayati, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which holds a seat in the current, temporary Iraq administration.
But the United Nations believes it's up to the Iraqis to come up with a formula for establishing a provisional government.
Seeking caucus alternative
U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Monday the world body, if asked, would help come up with an alternative to the original American plan to pick a new government using regional caucuses, a formula that Iraq's powerful Shiite clergy rejected as illegitimate and that now most of the 25-member Governing Council opposes.
Brahimi's report ruled out the caucuses plan, saying it was seen as too open to manipulation by the Americans. The United States now wants to expand the council to make it more representative and give it the power to rule until elections can be held.
Frustrated by the U.N. ruling on early elections, Shiite leaders are pressing for guarantees that a vote won't be postponed again and say the provisional government must be limited in its powers.
"Now, we have no choice but to accept it whether we like it or not. But we want to reach an agreement with the United Nations on a fixed unchangeable date for elections through a U.N. resolution," said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite on the council. "We do not want to enter in a vicious circle where elections is postponed forever and this what had been done by former governments in Iraq."
The U.N. report cited security as a key reason an early vote is impossible, with insurgents carrying out a campaign of attacks on U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.
A roadside bomb exploded this morning as a U.S. military convoy passed in the central Iraqi city of Baqouba, damaging a Humvee and wounding four soldiers, witnesses said.
The Governing Council met today to review the U.N. report, which estimated elections would be possible in January 2005 if the Iraqis set up a legal framework for them by May.
"I believe that we should start the preparations right now on the political and technical levels without waiting for the hand-over of power. We will ask officially for the U.N. help in organizing and supervising the elections," said Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd on the 25-member council.
Adnan Pachachi, another Sunni on the council, said a committee would be formed to start preparations, with U.N. help.
The issue of the provisional government's legitimacy is disrupting other stages in the U.S. timetable for transferring power -- though U.S., U.N. and Iraqi officials are adamant the hand-over will go ahead June 30.
U.S. and Iraqi officials will delay an agreement on the status of U.S. military forces in the country until after power is handed over to an Iraqi government, rather than by the end of March as originally planned, council members said Monday.
Members also said that an interim constitution due to be completed this week will likely not deal with some of the more contentious issues -- particularly the details of Kurdish federalism.