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Iraq rejects U.S. offer to fix election
The Daily Star
Iraq rejects U.S. talk of adjusting vote result
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, December 27, 2004

Iraq's election body rejected a suggestion in Washington that it adjust the results of next month's vote to benefit the Sunni minority if low turnout in Sunni areas means Shiites win an exaggerated majority in the new assembly.

In another development, Iraq's foreign minister asked the United Nations to take the upcoming elections more seriously, calling on the world organization to "redouble its efforts."

In reaction to a U.S. bid to stem strong Sunni opposition to the elections, Iraq's Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayyar described the request as "unacceptable" interference, saying: "Who wins, wins. That is the way it is. That is the way it will be in the election."

U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, at pains to keep their role in the election discreet, declined comment on a New York Times report from Washington which said Sunnis might be granted extra seats if the community's vote was judged to have been too low.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that if the ballot on Jan. 30 fails to reflect Iraq's sectarian and ethnic mix due to violence and boycotts in Sunni areas, then the assembly will lack legitimacy.

But any attempt to fix the proportion of seats going to the main groups in advance could have the same effect.

"The Americans are expressing their views and those aren't always the same as the Commission's," Ayyar told Reuters.

"But the Commission is absolutely independent. It is not acceptable for anyone to interfere in our business."

Citing an unnamed Western diplomat, The New York Times said U.S. officials had already raised the issue with an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, the possibility of adding some top Sunni vote-getters to the legislature.

The long-oppressed Shiites, 60 percent of the population, are expected to overturn decades of Sunni-dominated rule in the January vote.

While some in neighboring countries have expressed concerns that a Shiite alliance might win the elections, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday the planned assembly was designed so no one group can govern by itself. "It's not winners take all." He also called on Iraq's neighbors do more to stop militants from crossing into his country and to stop the "media agitation" for efforts to destabilize Iraq.

"They should let the people of Iraq decide and determine their own future by themselves," he added.

He also called on the UN to do more to support the elections. "We hope that the UN really will redouble its efforts to take this event far more seriously than it has done so far," Zebari said in an interview at Iraq's embassy in Beijing.

"The UN has a leading role, not only an advisory role in support of the election," he said. "We are not satisfied with the level of the UN engagement." He said more UN staff and election monitors are needed.

Iraqis are to vote for a 275-member national assembly that would draft a Constitution to replace the country's current interim law passed by the now defunct U.S.-led occupation authority, ahead of fresh elections.

The head of the influential Committee of Muslim Scholars said his fellow Sunnis had nothing to lose by acting on threats to boycott the elections.

"Iraq's Sunnis would lose nothing by not taking part in the drafting of the country's constitution," said Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari late Saturday. "Once liberated the people have the right to reassess a Constitution that came into being in the shadow of occupation."

Both US President George W. Bush and Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are adamant about holding the elections on time.

But it appears that Washington has not given up on trying to convince figures like Dhari to moderate their opposition to the elections.

Dhari said he was visited Saturday by Adnan Pachachi, a senior secular Sunni politician with close ties to the White House, and other leaders, whom he refused to identify.

"They stressed the importance of taking part in the elections as a way of ultimately ending the presence of U.S. troops," he said.

"I told them that if a timetable is worked out for the end of the occupation and if this was guaranteed by the international community then we would ask those who have allied themselves to us in boycotting the elections to take part," he added. The committee along with 70 other political, religious and civic organizations signed a manifesto in mid-November to officially boycott the elections. - Agencies