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[casi-analysis] Will there be elections in January?

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Dear list,

There have recently been a couple of good articles on progress
towards the January elections (1, 5), as well as a Secretary General's
report earlier in the month giving a summary of the limited progress over
the summer (16, p. 7-9). Throughout that period, worries about the
deadline have been floating around, with the UN quietly panicking (2), and
Iraqi politicians needing to publicly deny that there have been problems

The most important question is whether the elections will happen at all.
Kofi Annan has been becoming gradually more pessimistic in his public
statements, most recently telling the BBC that "You cannot have credible
elections if the security conditions continue as they are now."(17). I
imagine the US wants to avoid any definite postponement before their own
elections, so I wouldn't wait for anything so downbeat from them. But the
situation on the ground more than justifies Annan's attitude. The UN
election assistants have fled to Jordan (5), and the (Iraqi) members of
the electoral commission ((4) has a list of their names) rarely dare leave
the Green Zone, and feel forced to travel incognito (1) whenever they do
venture out. Candidates, too, will have a hard time roaming the country
without getting shot. Ironically, they'll need to travel because of the
proportional representation system, which was put in place to make it
harder for local militias to intimidate candidates.

In such a climate, it's natural that most people, like Annan, see security
as the main problem. Unfortunately, this has led to an extremely
counter-productive approach from the military, which insists that it must
invade 'no-go areas' like Najaf and Fallujah in order to provide security
for elections. For example an AP from a fortnight ago says that "The U.S.
military will work to regain control of rebel strongholds and turn them
over to Iraq's fledgling security forces so elections will be seen by
Iraqis - and the world - as free and fair." (13)

Helena Cobban picks this argument apart in the Christian Science Monitor
(12). She argues - based on a comparison to South Africa - that: "For
elections to be held and to be judged valid in any part of Iraq, it is not
necessary that US forces be in control of that area - only that it be
peaceable enough to allow free access by election workers, candidates, and
party organizers, all of whom are Iraqi, not American. If the election
process has enough general political credibility in the country, they will
have the access they need."

In fact, escalating the conflict with Sadr is having the opposite effect,
opening up the awful possibility of no elections in Fallujah whatsoever:
"At the weekend Dr Allawi mooted an alternative possibility, also floated
by Lieutenant- General Thomas Metz, operations chief of the 150,000 US-led
troops in Iraq: that elections could be prevented or delayed in Fallujah
without prejudicing the overall result." (1)

Looking at Allawi's comments another way, they're just another step in the
long process of scaling back expectations for the elections. In June the
UN thought 30,000 polling stations would be needed(6). Now, they're
planning to have 7,000 (5). The same scaling-back is happening with voter
registration. In June, the UN was planning to use oil for food ration
cards to identify voters (9). This was replaced by a plan to have a full
census, which would have taken place on October 12 (7). As the 21 July IPO
news analysis (10) explains, this is a good thing because the "ration card
database is deeply flawed. The Hajj pilgrimage allocations, executed in
December and which were based on that database, resulted in gross
overestimation of population size of districts that were Ba'athi
strongholds, and underestimation of population size from districts that
were hostile to Saddam." I'd add to that the practical problem that
however good the ration cards were two years ago, they're out of date now,
given the large migrations, return of expatriates, etc. A census would
also be extremely useful for other reasons (11) However, the census was
cancelled in late August because of security concerns(8), and so we're
back to the OFF cards (5). What's worse, the procedure for dealing with
discrepencies is pretty flimsy: "Residents will be able to look at the
list for six weeks in November and December to make corrections...We don't
have time to worry too much" (5)

Another issue that pops up from time to time is postal voting for
non-resident Iraqis. Not surprisingly, the 5-million-strong expatriate
community are keen on this, but there are problems. Leaving aside the
practical issues of finding them, registering them, and getting them
ballot papers, there is the problem that many of those who would class
themselves as Iraqi don't have official citizenship. Because 4 fifths of
the expatriates are Shia, some Sunni groups may also object to postal
voting (15). To understand the significance of this, bear in mind that
five million people is somewhere around a sixth of the total population.

The obvious next question is what happens if elections are postponed or
seriously flawed. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, but in the
meantime I'll leave you with this comment from Juan Cole (18):

"Sistani's quite resonable demand for elections is nevertheless among
the greatest dangers facing the Allawi government and the Americans. It
will be extremely difficult actually to hold the elections on time. But
Sistani believes only such elections can produce a legitimate government,
and he already accepted a six-month delay. If the elections are not held,
and if Sistani begins to fear they won't be held soon, he may well call
the masses into the streets. That could lead to an overthrow of Allawi and
an expulsion of the Americans. Keep your eye on February and March of


Daniel O'Huiginn
07745 192426
24, Priory Road, Cambridge

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