UNITED NATIONS - Despite UN reservations about the legitimacy of upcoming polls
and warnings about deteriorating security in military-occupied, war ravaged
Iraq, the government is determined to hold elections in January, a senior official
told the UN Security Council on Monday.
Brushing aside UN misgivings, Iraq's permanent representative to the United
Nations, Samir Sumaida'ie, told delegates: "We believe that we have a legal
and political obligation to the people of Iraq, an obligation we intend to discharge,
and to do so, to the extent possible, on time."
The envoy publicly dismissed warnings by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who
expressed fears that the threatened "boycott" of the upcoming elections
by certain sections of the Iraqi population would detract from the legitimacy
of the polls, scheduled for Jan. 30.
"This underlines the urgent need to promote consensus on this important
issue within the broader framework of the challenge of national reconciliation,"
Annan said in a 17-page
report on Iraq, submitted to the Security Council on Monday.
Sumaida'ie challenged the United Nations on both counts. "Reading that, one
might gain the impression that those who are calling for boycotting the elections
are of similar weight to those who want to participate," he said. "That is
far from being the case."
Sumaida'ie said there is no reason to believe that those calling for a boycott
primarily groups from the majority Sunni Muslim population are
a "sizable segment."
"Boycotts have failed in other countries transitioning to democracy," he
said, pointing out that Iraq is unlikely to be an exception.
Also, if by the word "'consensus' we mean 'unanimity,' then we are setting
ourselves an impossible task," added the diplomat. "Having said that,
we are fully aware of the need for national reconciliation, which will be pursued
vigorously," he assured delegates.
"Given the opportunity, Iraqis will turn out in large numbers to participate
in the first free elections of their lives," he predicted.
But despite that optimism, the envoy admitted the primary risk to the polls
is not the boycotts but the insurgency that has gained strength since the U.S.-led
invasion of March 2003. Sumaida'ie called it, "the campaign of violence and
intimidation that is directed at the general population in order to thwart them"
U.S. and coalition forces have occupied Iraq since the invasion, but the insurgents'
aggressive and deadly campaign against them has resulted in the deaths of more
than 1,200 U.S. soldiers. As many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians are said to have
been killed by the fighting.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin also raised another important issue
relating to the elections when he queried visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad
Allawi about the genuineness of an election conducted by a U.S.-appointed government
in a militarily occupied country.
"To be frank," Putin told Allawi, "I cannot imagine how elections
can be organized when the country is under full occupation by foreign troops."
"I also do not see how you, on your own, can rebuild the situation in
the country and keep it from collapsing," he added.
U.S. Ambassador John Danforth told the Security Council on Monday that the
multinational force of more than 150,000 troops and support personnel from more
than 30 countries "remained in place at the invitation of the Iraqi government."
Their presence in Iraq, he argued, is meant to contribute to security and stability
and to assist Iraqis in building a democratic society.
Until Iraqi forces were fully trained and operational, and insurgents ceased
their violent campaign, "security remains a serious concern," Danforth said.
He predicted the elections "would not be the end of process but, rather,
a beginning and an important step in the development of a democratic nation."
Appealing to the United Nations the U.S. representative said, "additional
United Nations support is essential to the future of Iraq, and especially to
the success of next month's elections."
But Annan has been reluctant to provide more than 20 UN personnel working as
advisors to the election, primarily because of the insecurity in the country.
That number could rise to over 50 in January.
The United Nations pulled its international staff from Iraq after the bombing
of the UN compound in Baghdad in August 2003, which claimed the lives of over
22 people, including Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, who headed
the world body's operation in the country.
Allawi has proposed that the voting could be staggered over 15-20 days so that
adequate security measures could be focussed on particular areas, releasing
pressure on U.S. and coalition forces, who are expected to safeguard polling
booths throughout the country.
The Iraqi insurgents, who have warned the government against holding elections,
have threatened to disrupt the polls with a wave of violence, including suicide
bombings, which could deter many Iraqis from going to the polls.
In his address to the Security Council, the Iraqi envoy also challenged the
United Nations because it "indirectly criticizes the use of force to dislodge
terrorists in [the Iraqi city of] Fallujah" in November.
"Yet it [the United Nations] offers no alternative which had not already
been tried for months, to no avail," Sumaida'ie said.
The UN report, he said, commends the interim government in Baghdad for its
efforts in reaching out and engaging (insurgent) groups willing to talk.
"But despite all such efforts, we have witnessed increased audacity and brutality
in targeting Iraqi children, women and men for wholesale massacre," the envoy
The interim government has 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."
Its strategy, therefore, is to deprive safe haven to any terrorist bent on
destroying the transition process. "No responsible government can do anything
else," Sumaida'ie added.
(Inter Press Service)