U.N.: Iraqi Electoral Lawmakers Must Move Quickly

Iraqi elections are possible by Jan. 31 if Iraqi leaders complete the gargantuan task of drawing up an electoral law in the next six weeks, a U.N. official said Thursday.

An electoral commission will be charged with stipulating who can vote, how voters are registered, who can be a candidate, what rules govern campaigning, where balloting will be held and how votes will be counted.

"These are things that would take a normal parliament years to discuss," said Carina Perelli (search), the head of a U.N. electoral team.

Nationwide elections for an Iraqi national assembly are scheduled to take place in less than 10 months, but Iraq still has no rules governing who can vote, who can run, and how the country's electoral districts will be formed.

Those laws must be in place by the end of next month, Perelli told journalists in Baghdad.

"It's impossible to have elections by January 2005 if agreements aren't reached in the next few weeks," Perelli said. "The time is very scarce and there is no time for dallying."

Perelli, like U.N. Undersecretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi (search), also said the nationwide vote would be impossible without a major improvement in security. Brahimi, who heads a separate U.N. team currently visiting Iraq, said Wednesday that security must improve "considerably" before any election.

Some violence will not halt the vote, Perelli said. Elections recognized as legitimate routinely take place amid disruptive attacks and even ongoing civil wars, such as Colombia's, she said.

But Perelli said the deadly surge in violence that killed more than 1,000 Iraqis and almost 90 U.S. troops this month was too disruptive for a vote — and even prevented her U.N. team from consulting with as many Iraqis as she wished.

The contentious task of drawing up an election law will coincide with wrangling over the composition of an interim government that would rule Iraq for seven months until elections.

President Bush and Iraq's occupation authorities are eager to transfer authority to a nominally independent Iraqi government on June 30, though the United States retains control of some key levers of power, particularly security duties.

Brahimi has suggested the Governing Council (search) be disbanded after June 30 and the country ruled by a caretaker government led by a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents until January's vote. Brahimi said the powers of any interim legislature should be limited to a consultative role.

"I am absolutely confident that most Iraqis want a simple solution for this interim period," Brahimi told reporters. "You don't need a legislative body for this short period."

The electoral commission, to be set up by the Governing Council, would handle much of the preparations for the elections, Perelli said, adding that U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer (search) would need to approve.

Perelli said as many as 130,000 election workers need to be hired and trained to run the January election. A minimum of eight months is needed to complete these tasks.