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Analysis: Iraqi Groups Debate Election Postponement

Interim Premier Iyad Allawi (file photo) Some 17 Iraqi political groups and dozens of political figures gathered at the home of former Foreign Minister and veteran Sunni leader Adnan Pachachi on 26 November to discuss a proposal to postpone Iraq's national elections for up to six months.

For more Iraqi news and information, see The New Iraq

A number of prominent Sunni groups have said that the elections, slated for 30 January, should be delayed due to the unstable security situation -- particularly in Sunni areas -- which has hindered the ability of groups to organize and register parties and voters. Media reports have indicated that the majority of registration centers in the Al-Anbar Governorate are closed due to security concerns. The Muslim Scholars Association, perhaps the most well known Sunni group, has threatened to boycott the elections altogether after U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an attack into the restive Sunni city of Al-Fallujah earlier this month.

Pachachi told Iraq's Al-Sharqiyah Television in a 27 November interview that the meeting was useful. "Most of the attendees believe that it is in the interest of Iraq under the current circumstances to postpone the elections for a specific period so that the political forces that are still hesitant can participate in them. Through a constructive dialogue, we hope these forces will reconsider their position." He added that an improved security situation would also allow for voters to cast ballots free from pressure or even coercion. A number of militant groups have issued statements threatening to target political parties, candidates, and voters in the January elections.
The call for a postponement also sparked claims by Turkoman groups that Kurds would support a six-month delay in order to continue their effort to change the demographic composition of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The meeting, attended by representatives of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord (INA), as well as the two main Kurdish parties, set off a firestorm of speculation as to the why these groups would support an election delay. Allawi's spokesmen were quick to tell the media that although INA representatives attended the meeting, they did not endorse the proposal. Spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib said that Allawi "takes seriously his responsibility to proceed with the mandate given to him by the interim State Administration Law and the resolutions of the [UN] Security Council, which include extending help to the Higher Commission to hold elections at the end of January," Al-Arabiyah television reported on 27 November.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was quick to clarify that while it was prepared to hold elections on time, it would not be opposed to any delay to allow Sunnis to better organize. The postponement would allow for broader participation, which would only lend legitimacy to the elections, KDP representatives said. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told that the Kurds would only require a postponement if the weather deteriorates in the northern Kurdish areas and prevents voters from making it to the polls, the website reported on 27 November.

The call for a postponement also sparked claims by Turkoman groups that Kurds would support a six-month delay in order to continue their effort to change the demographic composition of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Turkoman parties charged that Kurds would continue a campaign to drive the Arab and Turkoman population from the city and resettle Kurds there.

Both Kurdish parties have made it clear in recent months that they believe Kirkuk is a Kurdish city and should be incorporated into a federal Kurdistan. The city holds the largest proven reserves of oil in Iraq. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said in a statement last week that it would oppose elections in Kirkuk Province on the grounds that Article 58 of the interim State Administration Law calls for the return of all displaced Kurds to Kirkuk before the elections. Kurdish Premier Barzani said his party would reject elections in Kirkuk until a population census can be held, reported on 27 November.

Six Turkoman parties rejected the call for delaying the Kirkuk elections, saying that the Kurdish groups wanted to impede the political process in Iraq. "We do not reject the return of the expelled people to their homes, but we refuse to say that failure to implement [Article 58] that is related to the expelled people would annul the legal basis that legitimizes the election of the Kirkuk Govenorate Council," the statement said. "The Kurdish parties had better understand that resolving the issue of the expelled people will not result in specifying the identity of Kirkuk," it continued.

The 26 November meeting prompted a meeting of some 40 political parties the following day to discuss, and ultimately reject, the postponement proposal. Participants at the meeting, held at the Baghdad office of the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, signed a statement calling for elections to be held on schedule.

The statement claimed that under UN Security Council Resolution 1546, any postponement would be illegal; a postponement would also violate the State Administration Law. "It will also remove the legal and legitimate cover under which the [interim] National Assembly and the government are performing. The government's jurisdiction legally ends on 31 January 2005," the statement added. A postponement "will also lead to further security and political chaos," and "reward the terrorist forces that are hostile to the political process," it continued. The statement was signed by a number of Shi'ite political organizations, including SCIRI, the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, the Iraqi Hizballah Party, The Iraqi National Congress, the Unified National Alliance, eight Turkoman political parties, and a number of secular and tribal groups.

It is unclear whether a postponement of elections would produce a worthwhile result in the end. Sunni groups such as the Muslim Scholars Association have been resistant to nearly every political development in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime; a delay is unlikely to change their stance. There is also no guarantee that the security situation will improve significantly over the next six months. However, six months would give political parties, and more importantly, secular independent candidates, additional time to organize and campaign in a country where the freedom of movement has been seriously obstructed in recent months.