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[casi] Article: U.S. Rejects Iraqi Plan to Hold Census by Summer

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U.S. Rejects Iraqi Plan to Hold Census by Summer

December 4, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 3 - Iraqi census officials devised a
detailed plan to count the country's entire population next
summer and prepare a voter roll that would open the way to
national elections in September. But American officials say
they rejected the idea, and the Iraqi Governing Council
members say they never saw the plan to consider it.

The practicality of national elections is now the subject
of intense debate among Iraqi and American officials, who
are trying to move forward on a plan to give Iraqis
sovereignty next summer. As the American occupation
officials rejected the plan to compile a voter roll
rapidly, they also argued to the Governing Council that the
lack of a voter roll meant national elections were

The American plan for Iraqi sovereignty proposes instead a
series of caucus-style, indirect elections.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite
cleric, is calling for national elections next June, not
the indirect balloting specified in the American plan for
turning over control of the country. But American
officials, and some Iraqis say the nation is not ready for
national elections, in part because the logistics are too

In October, Nuha Yousef, the census director, finished the
plan for a quick census, which lays out the timetable in
tabular form over several pages.

"After processing the data, the most important thing is the
election roll, and that would be available Sept. 1," she
said. Full results, she added, would come in December.

One American official acknowledged in an interview that
American authorities had been aware of the quick census
plan but rejected it.

Informed of the proposal this week, several members of the
Governing Council who advocated a direct national ballot
next June 30 said they were upset that they had not seen
it. The Census Bureau said it had delivered the plan to the
Governing Council on Nov. 1, but apparently it was lost in
the bureaucracy.

"This could have changed things," said Dr. T. Hamid
al-Bayati, a senior aide to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the
Governing Council member who announced last week that
Shiite religious leaders opposed the indirect elections.
Perhaps, he and others suggested, some council members
would have argued last month that the vote on
self-government should be delayed until September when the
voter roll became available.

Another council member who favors national elections said:
"I am irate. There is no doubt the situation would be
different now, if we had known about this."

Charles Healtly, a spokesman for the occupation
authorities, said the Americans knew about the census
proposal but decided against pursuing it.

"Rushing into a census in this time frame with the security
environment that we have would not give the result that
people want," he said. "A lot of preparation work needs to
be done for elections, and there is concern not to rush the

Some Governing Council members say the Americans never told
them about the census plan.

Some Iraqis have said they wonder why American officials
called for caucus elections in June, in part because a
census could not be completed in less than a year, while at
the same time rejecting a plan to produce a census more

Louay Hagi, who oversees the Census Bureau in the Planning
Ministry, said the proposal was not rushed. In an
interview, he said his staff prepared a detailed timetable
for a census that was stripped down from the 73 questions
asked in the last census six years ago, to 12 basic
demographic queries, enabling the work to be done much
faster than the normal two-year time frame.

As it had in the past, the bureau would use 400,000 school
teachers to visit every household in Iraq on one day, June
30, said Ms. Yousef, the census director. The plan would
cost $75 million, Mr. Hagi said, in part to buy 2,500

"We sent the plan to the Governing Council on Nov. 1 and
asked for an answer by Nov. 15," Mr. Hagi said. "We are
still waiting for a response." He would not say to whom at
the council the proposal was sent.

Adel Abdel Mahdi, who attends every Governing Council
meeting on behalf of Mr. Hakim, the council member, said he
had never heard about the census proposal and "was
surprised" to learn of it.

A council member who does not favor elections, Ghazi Ajil
al-Yawar, said, "This is bad," and continued: "You can't
have something like this as a secret. It is not a weapon."
But he said he did not think knowledge of the plan would
have changed the debate last month.

As it turned out, on Nov. 15 the Governing Council
announced it had agreed to the American plan for indirect
elections to choose a "transitional assembly" in June, the
first step in a progression to a new constitution and the
election of a new Iraqi government by Dec. 31, 2005.

The debate now is over whether the selection of a
transitional assembly next summer should be by caucus-style
balloting or a direct national election. Although last
week, Ayatollah Sistani declared that he would insist on a
direct vote, his aides have since softened that view. In an
interview, Mr. Bayati said Mr. Hakim, who is serving as
president of the Governing Council this month, was "ready
to compromise."

"We want a plan that will reflect the will of the Iraqi
people," Mr. Bayati said, "and we could do that by using
civic societies in every governorate - union leaders,
judges, chiefs of tribes, religious figures and other
well-known parties."

An American official said "that sounds essentially like
what we have been proposing, but as always the devil is in
the details," such as who would choose those people.

Last week the council established a nine-member committee
to study the issue of how to choose the transitional

Mr. Hagi said the quick census was still possible, but that
now the results might not be ready until the middle of


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