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Iraq: Bremer Rules Out Elections For At Least A Year

Prague, 23 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's U.S. administrator has ruled out elections there for at least another year. L. Paul Bremer made the remarks in an interview aired on 21 February on the Al-Arabiyah television channel.

He said a number of what he called "technical problems" have to be resolved before any direct poll.

"The most important problems are technical ones, as UN specialists pointed out when they were here last week," Bremer said. "Iraq has no election law, it has no electoral commission to even establish a law, it has no law governing political parties, it has no voters' lists, it has not had a credible, reliable census in almost 20 years, there are no constituent boundaries to decide where elections would take place."

Bremer said the United Nations estimates that will all take at least a year to fix. "These technical problems will take time to fix, the UN estimates somewhere between a year to 15 months,” Bremer said. “It might be that it could be sped up a little bit, but there are real important technical problems why elections are not possible, as [UN] Secretary-General [Kofi Annan] announced."

The United States plans to hand authority to a transitional Iraqi government on 30 June. The majority Shi'a had originally demanded direct elections for a permanent government instead. But UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 19 February these could not be properly organized by 30 June. Both sides now appear to be considering compromises.

The United States says it is considering changing its plans for the transitional government to be chosen by regional caucuses. And Iraq's powerful Shi'a leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hinted in an interview on 20 February that he might accept a short delay in electing a permanent government.

Another contentious issue is the role of Islam in Iraq's new legislation. Bremer said on 19 February that the country's new constitution should not be based solely on Islamic law, comments that angered many in Iraq's Shi'a and Sunni Muslim communities.

Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's top representative in Iraq, said Islam must be an "important source" for legislation. "Ambassador Bremer and I recognize that Islam must be a fundamental part of the new Iraq...and that it will be an important source of legislation in the new Iraq," he said at a meeting of Iraq's National Council for Women.