Accelerated Iraqi census rejected

Council members `irate' over not seeing proposal

December 04, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi census officials devised a detailed plan to count the country's entire population next summer and prepare a voter roll that would open the way to national elections in September. But American officials say they rejected the idea, and Iraqi Governing Council members say they never saw the plan.

The practicality of national elections is the subject of intense debate among Iraqi and American officials, who are trying to move forward on a plan to give Iraqis sovereignty next summer. As American occupation officials rejected the plan to rapidly compile a voter roll, they also argued to the council that the lack of a voter roll elections were impractical.

The American plan for Iraqi sovereignty instead proposes a series of caucus-style, indirect elections.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, is calling for national elections in June, not the indirect balloting specified in the American plan for turning over control of the country. But American officials and some Iraqis say the nation is not ready for national elections, in part because the logistics are too daunting.

In October, census director Nuha Yousef finished the plan for a quick count, which lays out the timetable in tabular form over several pages.

"After processing the data, the most important thing is the election roll, and that would be available Sept. 1," she said. Full results, she added, would come in December next year.

One American official acknowledged in an interview that American authorities had been aware of the quick census plan but rejected it.

Informed of the proposal this week, several members of the governing council who advocated a direct national ballot on June 30 said they were upset that they had not seen the plan. The Census Bureau said that it had delivered the proposal to the council Nov. 1, but that it was apparently lost in the bureaucracy.

"This could have changed things," said Dr. T. Hamid al-Bayati, a senior aide to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Governing Council member who announced last week that Shiite religious leaders opposed the indirect elections.

Another council member who favors national elections said, "I am irate. There is no doubt the situation would be different now, if we had known about this."

Charles Heatly, a spokesman for the occupation authorities, said the Americans knew about the census proposal but decided against pursuing it.

"Rushing into a census in this time frame with the security environment that we have would not give the result that people want," he said. "A lot of preparation work needs to be done for elections, and there is concern not to rush the process."

Some council members say the Americans never told them about the census plan.

Some Iraqis have said they wonder why American officials called for caucus elections in June, in part because a census could not be completed in less than a year, while at the same time rejecting a plan to produce a census more quickly.

Louay Hagi, who oversees the Census Bureau, said the proposal was not rushed.

"We sent the plan to the governing council on Nov. 1 and asked for an answer by Nov. 15," Hagi said. "We are still waiting for a response."

As it turned out, on Nov. 15 the council announced that it had agreed to the American plan for indirect elections to choose a "transitional assembly" in June, the first step in a progression to a new constitution and the election of a new Iraqi government by Dec. 31, 2005.

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