Global Policy Forum

UN Envoy Sees an Uphill Battle in Iraq


By Farah Stockman

Boston Globe
September 15, 2004

The United Nations special representative for Iraq yesterday painted a bleak picture of the situation on the ground and ruled out a large-scale return of UN personnel to Iraq, despite mounting US and Iraqi pressure for more UN help with elections that are slated for January.

The transfer of sovereignty to the interim government has not been accompanied by an improvement in the security situation," Ashraf Jehangir Qazi told the Security Council as he introduced UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's latest Iraq progress report. Calling the killing yesterday of dozens of Iraqis outside Baghdad police headquarters "a sign of the resurgence of the vicious cycle of violence that is halting the process of rebuilding the country," Qazi listed a host of obstacles to holding elections in January, including a "climate of fear" and the fact that several significant political parties were not yet participating in the political process.

Still, Qazi told the Security Council that the Iraqi government was pressing ahead with elections and that the UN would do its best to train Iraqi electoral workers at venues outside the country. The UN has already begun training the Iraqi electoral commission' staff in Amman, Jordan, and run a two-week seminar on electoral issues in Mexico City. But just about 35 UN officials are currently on the ground in Iraq, far fewer than the hundreds who had been expected to assist with the Iraqi elections.

The UN will need to help Iraq's electoral commission "to build the electoral administration from scratch," Annan wrote in the report, dated Aug. 5. That requires setting up 18 offices -- one in each province -- and 450 to 600 district offices, each handling several polling stations. The UN also must train Iraqi staffers to run polling stations and develop a voter registry from the UN's food ration card database. The UN's work has been hampered by the fact that few member states have contributed soldiers for a promised protection force.

In Brussels, Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawer told reporters he would press on with elections "unless the UN says it is impossible" to hold them. But yesterday's Security Council meeting prompted a fresh appeal from Iraq to send more UN election workers. "The number of UN workers now in Iraq is inadequate," Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, Iraq's UN representative, told the Security Council yesterday. "There is simply no other place for us to turn. No one does a better job of assisting in organizing credible, honest elections in emerging democracies than the United Nations."

US Ambassador John C. Danforth conceded yesterday that "the security situation is fragile, attacks are persistent, and lives continue to be lost." But he also pressed for elections to proceed and for the UNto play a larger role in them. "We have days where there are setbacks, and we have to acknowledge them, but that only strengthens our resolve," Danforth said. "We look forward to increased UN activities in Iraq -- activities that will promote the democratic process."

But many at yesterday's Security Council meeting questioned whether free and fair elections could be prepared in just four months, according to two diplomats present at the meeting. "Everybody would like to see elections taking place in Iraq by 2005, but some delegations, the majority of delegations, are genuinely concerned about the feasibility of this time frame," said one Security Council diplomat.

A UN official who asked not to be named said the UN believes the January election can take place if at least 60 percent of Iraq's eligible voters take part, excluding enclaves such as Najaf and Fallujah. "That would make a legitimate election," he said. Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that representatives can be appointed for places where voting cannot take place, such as the rebellious Sunni Triangle. "I think that's the sort of thing we are going to have to contemplate. Improvise," O'Hanlon said.

Even without a security problem, elections would be extremely difficult in Iraq, where little infrastructure and experience exists for them, according to Carlos Valenzuela, UN adviser to the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission in Baghdad. "It's a huge technical and administrative, and logistical process," he said. "People are sometimes naive to think that if there was no security problem, elections would happen just like that."

More Information on Iraq
More Information on the UN Role in Post-War Iraq
More Information on Iraq's Government


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