Global Policy Forum

Iraq Presses UN for More Help on Elections

December 13, 2004

Iraq's government pressed the United Nations on Monday to give it more help on the ground ahead of planned elections and rejected U.N. criticism of military assaults on insurgent-held areas. Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Samir Shakir Sumaidaie, briefing the U.N. Security Council, said his government was more concerned by attacks on the Iraqi people than by threats of an election boycott, which he predicted would not be heeded by "any sizable segment of Iraq's population."

While some Iraqi leaders have been criticized for failing to reach out aggressively to alienated factions, prompting some boycott threats, Sumaidaie said Iraqis would "turn out in large numbers to participate in the first free elections of their lives." "Any risk to the election and its credibility and inclusiveness is likely to come not so much from a boycott but from the campaign of violence and intimidation which is directed at the general population in order to thwart them," he said.

The United Nations, under pressure from the Bush administration to do more to help prepare for Jan. 30 elections, has raised its ceiling for international staff in Iraq to 59 six weeks ahead of the planned Jan. 30 elections and expects to have 25 electoral workers in Iraq shortly as it helps lay the groundwork for the vote.

A darth of UN workers

The world body had withdrawn its international staff last October, after two bombings of its Baghdad offices, including one that killed 22 people. U.N. staff began to return this year. But Sumaidaie said too much election help was conducted from outside Iraq, via videoconferences, telephone calls and letters. "There is a dearth of U.N. workers, even in northern and southern Iraq, despite the relative peace and stability there," he said. "In the limited time we have left before elections it is critical for the U.N. to bolster its presence and intensify its activities in Iraq."

He declined to give specific numbers but said Baghdad hoped for "a substantial increase" in U.N. international staff. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard, asked to comment, said the world body was not shying from its responsibilities but instead "looking very closely after the safety and security of our staff after the horrendous events of the bombing in Baghdad." U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was expected to discuss the issue next week in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The United Nations has warned the interim government and the United States, which heads the multinational force backing it up, that broad military assaults on areas with large civilian populations such as Falluja risked undermining elections by further alienating some Iraqi groups. But Sumaidaie said the government had concluded that "those responsible for these atrocities were not interested in negotiating, and those who were in dialogue with the government were incapable of delivering an end to violence." Baghdad's goal, he said, had thus been "to deprive terrorists bent on destroying the transition process of any safe havens in Iraq. No responsible government can do anything else."

After military action earlier this year in the holy city of Najaf in southwest Iraq and Baghdad's Sadr City district, there was now "general calm" in these areas, he said. The assault on Falluja had turned up 203 weapons caches, 11 bomb factories and three "slaughter houses for captives and hostages," he said, displaying a city map marking the spots.

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


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