`Partial' election for assembly in secure Iraq areas proposed

Idea rejected by U.S., result of growing alliance between Kurds, Shiites

February 18, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Shiite leaders are pushing a new plan for the transfer of power in Iraq that calls for partial elections, with balloting in the relatively secure Shiite and Kurdish areas but not in the more turbulent "Sunni triangle."

The proposal, which has grown out of an emerging alliance between Kurdish and Shiite political parties, is part of the intensifying scramble for power among politicians before a United Nations announcement, expected this week, on whether elections are feasible in Iraq.

But partial elections, U.S. officials said, would further alienate the Sunnis, who already are generating the majority of violence against the Americans and their Iraqi allies.

"Allowing citizens from some regions to vote and disenfranchising others certainly does not inspire credibility and legitimacy," a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the United States remains committed to giving the Iraqi people control of their country by July 1 but is open to ideas from the United Nations about how an interim government is to be chosen.

"We've got an open mind on it," Powell said.

Leaders of Iraq's Shiites, the country's largest single group, said their plan is the only feasible way to have any kind of elections while still allowing U.S. administrators to transfer authority to the Iraqi people by June 30, the date set in a U.S.-Iraqi agreement last November.

"Partial elections is one of the possibilities on the table," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite political leader and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

"There are places secure enough where we can hold elections right now. Those places happen to be in the north and in the south."

Kurdish leaders would not comment specifically on the plan but they did emphasize a new "strategic relationship" with Shiite clerics in their discussions.

Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the leading Kurdish parties, said it was important to work with the Shiite leadership because "these two major communities in Iraq should share an interest in fundamental change in the politics of Iraq."

"Both have been excluded from power for the almost 83 years of the Iraqi state," he said.

On Sunday, Jalal Talabani, head of a leading Kurdish party and a member of the Governing Council, traveled to the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites.

After the 2 1/2 -hour meeting, Talabani said, "We have big hope in our Shia brothers."

The partial-election plan calls for representatives in the predominantly Sunni areas to be chosen in tightly guarded caucuses, an idea vehemently opposed by members of the country's Sunni minority, who say it is illegitimate and would further divide Iraq's people.

"Maybe this is their dream," said Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Governing Council and himself a Sunni.

"But it doesn't make any sense, only the north and the south voting. If the center of Iraq is not involved, how could Iraq be considered a sovereign power?"

Pachachi also said the Governing Council had "discarded" U.S. plans for a caucus-style selection process for a transitional government.

Instead, council members want to retain power though the transition period but double the number of seats on the council from 25 to 50 to make it more representative.

In a news conference this week, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief U.S. administrator here, insisted that the central elements of the November agreement could be carried out: that an Iraqi national assembly could be chosen in nationwide caucuses and that the Americans could hand over power by June 30.

But while all sides are sticking to the June 30 deadline, the clamor for direct elections is only growing louder.

A U.N. team was in Iraq last week assessing when and how elections could be held. Yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hoped to make his recommendation on Iraq before departing Friday for a trip to Japan.

The proposal being discussed by Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish leaders is a sign of the scale of the task they are facing: choosing a representative government while a guerrilla war is raging over large parts of the country.

Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yaqobi, a cleric and part of the inner circle of Shiite leadership, called the partial-election plan "the lesser of two evils."

"There is no perfect solution," Yaqobi said in an interview in Najaf. "But we have 10 stable provinces south of Baghdad where it's possible to have elections right now, and the Kurdistan areas have had their own government for 12 years.

"As for the Sunni areas, they can do what suits them best."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Killed in Iraq

As of Tuesday, 541 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations and 2,666 U.S. service members have been wounded. Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 402 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest death

A soldier from the Stryker brigade died Monday evening in a roadside bombing in Tall Afar in northern Iraq.

Latest identifications

Pfc. Nichole M. Frye, 19, of Lena, Wis.; killed Monday in Baqubah when an explosive struck her convoy; assigned to 415th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Spc. Eric U. Ramirez, 31, of San Diego, Calif.; killed Feb. 12 in Abu Gireb when he was attacked by small-arms fire and an explosive; assigned to the Army National Guard, National City, Calif.

Associated Press

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