Published February 21, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's U.S. administrator said it could take up to 15 months to hold elections -- much longer than Shiites seem prepared to accept -- while an Iraqi was killed and four U.S. soldiers wounded Saturday in one of several scattered attacks.
U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer (search) told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television station that the absence of election laws, voters lists and reliable census data were obstacles to a quick election.
"These technical problems will take time to fix," he said in an interview with the station Friday that was broadcast Saturday. "The U.N. estimates somewhere between a year and 15 months."
Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search), demanded elections to choose a legislature before the planned June 30 transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to the Iraqis.
Insurgents fired on a U.S. military convoy Saturday near Haswa (search), 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing an Iraqi translator and wounding four American soldiers, the U.S. command in Baghdad said. No other details were available.
A firefight also broke out Saturday in Ramadi (search), west of Baghdad, after insurgents fired on U.S. soldiers in the center of the city. The Americans returned fire but it was unclear if there were any casualties. U.S. troops later found two bombs planted outside the mayors office and near a college.
Explosives went off Saturday in a car in Baghdad but no casualties were reported.
Late Friday, gunmen opened fire against an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (search) compound in Hawija, a town about 150 miles north of Baghdad, Col. Anwar Mohammed Amin said. One attacker was killed, he said.
The United States and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a vote by the end of June was not feasible, and Bremer insisted earlier this week that the deadline will not be changed.
The Americans would prefer to hand power over to an expanded Iraqi Governing Council, the 25-member body appointed by the coalition in July.
Adnan Pachachi, a prominent Sunni council member, said Saturday the Governing Council has not held formal discussions on alternatives such as a council expansion, although some politicians have proposed increasing the size to about 100.
Pachachi said, however, that the caucus system is "not on the table any more."
In written remarks to questions by the German magazine Der Spiegel, al-Sistani suggested he would accept a short delay in voting but demanded U.N. guarantees that there will be no more postponements.
The council itself is divided on the issue.
A Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, has suggested a delay of seven or eight months. Younadem Kana, an Assyrian Christian member of the council, said he believed elections might be held much sooner.
However, Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Sunni council member, said it would take at least a year to prepare for elections.
"I consider Bremer's statement as rational and realistic because successful elections cannot be done in less than one year," Othman told The Associated Press. "In my opinion, the important thing is not to have elections. The important thing is to have good results that would save us from troubles that might erupt due to badly prepared elections."
In a further obstacle to an agreement, the Kurds have submitted proposals to the draft interim constitution, due to take effect at the end of this month, guaranteeing broad autonomy for their self-ruled region. The demands included maintenance of their own "Kurdistan National Guard," parliament and tax system.
The Kurds also want guarantees that the permanent constitution due to be drafted next year will take effect in Kurdish areas only if a majority of voters there accept it. Kurdish demands have raised alarm among many Arabs over the future of Iraq as an integral state.
Feisal Istrabadi, a member of the constitutional drafting committee, said "some people" -- whom he would not identify -- objected to putting the Kurdish demands in the interim constitution, which would remain effect until a permanent charter is ratified next year.
In an agreement reached Nov. 15 with the Governing Council, Washington planned to establish a new legislature in regional caucuses. The legislature would then select a government to take power June 30. But al-Sistani demanded that the voters choose the legislature, and support for the caucus plan within the Governing Council evaporated.
Shiites, believed to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, are anxious for a vote to affirm their power after decades of suppression by the Sunni minority. Sunnis fear a quick vote will further marginalize their community, closely identified with Saddam Hussein's regime.
Most of the Iraqi insurgents attacking American forces are believed to be Sunnis.
In another development, unidentified assailants killed a former judge on Friday in the southern city of Basra. The attackers opened fire on the home of Jabbar Sihn al-Badran at around 10 p.m., killing him and wounding his daughter and son, family members said Saturday.