Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Elections: IECI the problem?
The following interesting article was submitted by Stafford Clarry, a member of the Next Century Foundation delegation to the Ninevah Plane, north of Mosul. Availability of polling stations is an issue of significant concern. There appears to be a direct correlation between the number of polling stations and the number of votes cast (turnout).
The NCF co-ordinated group of international observers during the October referendum, visited Duhok, Erbil, Suleimaniya, Al-Qosh, Bashiqa, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and other places. Among other observations, NCF reported a relatively high number of polling stations in Erbil compared to other places (1 per 3,000 registered voters, including polling stations only two blocks from each other). One example the observers highlighted is Bashiqa (A Yezidid town) which warranted at least 14 polling stations but there were only 6.
The New York Times
November 22, 2005
Vote in Iraq is Once Again Fraught With Peril
By EDWARD WONG
BAQUBA, Iraq, Nov. 22 - In a burst of flame and smoke, a roadside bomb exploded today next to an American military convoy carrying a top electoral official from Baghdad, Izzadin al-Muhammadi, as he rode through Baquba to a meeting with local politicians. The blast wounded no one, but it shook up Mr. Muhammadi.
Then things got bad.
At the fortified government center in this provincial capital in insurgent country, local leaders assailed Mr. Muhammadi with complaints. Why aren't there more polling centers? What will you do about all the people who cheat? Can you set up a fairer system for selecting observers?
The low point came when Sajah Qadouri, a provincial council member, accused the Iraqi electoral commission of being infiltrated by insurgents.
"A lot of people agree that the electoral commission is part of the problem," she said, shaking her head. "We know that terrorists exist even in the commission."
When the meeting broke up, Mr. Muhammadi wiped his brow with a tissue.
Such is the state of Iraqi politics just three weeks before the Dec. 15 elections for a full, four-year government. With officials like Mr. Muhammadi unable to travel anywhere unless accompanied by enough firepower to level a village, and with even the politicians expressing distrust of the electoral system, this vote is fraught with as much peril as the last one, in January.
For one thing, politics here have scarcely left the bare-knuckles era. The continuing guerrilla war, coupled with leftover tensions from the Hussein era, have starkly polarized the country's ethnic and religious factions, and their political leaders.
Today, Mr. Muhammadi, a stocky 45-year-old Sunni Turkmen in a maroon sport jacket, listened with growing impatience as a Sunni Arab politician demanded more polling centers in Sunni areas, a Shiite Arab called for greater scrutiny of people who try to cast multiple votes, and a Kurdish politician asked that recently returned Kurdish exiles be allowed to vote.
To the dozens of requests and complaints that he heard, Mr. Muhammadi's answers ranged from, "We'll look into that" to "You've got to be kidding!"
People were never able to air their grievances in this manner under the rule of Saddam Hussein, and the fact that the debate was happening at all was a sign of progress, some of those attending said.
"In childhood, people have to crawl before they take their first steps," Mahdi Saleh al-Jubouri, secretary general of the provincial council, said after the meeting. "We're at that stage, and there will be mistakes, but we're learning as we go."
Mr. Muhammadi's trip from Baghdad to Baquba is part of a campaign by the electoral commission and the American Embassy to reach out to politicians in heavily Sunni Arab areas, where the insurgency is strongest and where voting in January was nearly absent. A similar meeting last week in the northern city of Tikrit, Mr. Hussein's hometown, also turned into a raucous affair.
Fear is rife in these parts. Diyala Province, whose capital is Baquba, is one of Iraq's most demographically mixed regions, and one of the most violent. Last Friday, at least 80 people were killed and 100 were wounded when a pair of suicide bombers demolished two Shiite mosques in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin; the next day, at least 30 people died in a suicide car bombing at a funeral near Baquba.
The violence prevents Mr. Muhammadi, the chairman of the Iraqi electoral commission's board of directors, from just driving to Baquba, even though it is only 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. This morning, clutching a black satchel, he boarded an American Black Hawk helicopter inside Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone. A second Black Hawk followed, its gunners carefully scanning the palm groves and pastures below.
After landing at the main American base on the outskirts of Baquba, Mr. Muhammadi dashed into a convoy of two Bradley fighting vehicles, four Humvees and three armored sport utility vehicles. Soldiers from the Special Forces and the Third Infantry Division sat inside, holding automatic rifles and grenade launchers.
The roadside bomb detonated next to one of the Humvees as the convoy rolled through downtown. No one was hurt, and the vehicles never stopped.
"The bomb is nothing, next to what we're doing," Mr. Muhammadi said in an interview later. "What we're doing is bigger than the bomb."
Like many other political centers in Iraq, the provincial government headquarters in Baquba is shielded by 12-foot concrete blast walls and guarded by American and Iraqi soldiers. By 11 a.m., about two dozen local politicians had assembled on its second floor, in a room with a wall-hanging depicting the outline of Diyala above the slogan "Province of the Oranges."
American commanders here estimate that the 1.4 million people of Diyala are 40 percent Sunni Arab, 35 percent Shiite Arab, 20 percent Kurd and 5 percent "other." Those attending the meeting reflected that diversity, and they also spanned the ideological spectrum, from Communist Party leaders to Islamist sheiks.
They did not show up with open minds, though.
"It's rumor control," an American diplomat based in Baquba, Jim Flowers, said of the meeting. "After every election and every referendum, there are complaints from all sides that the other side cheated. In Diyala, everyone has concerns."
The politicians wasted no time in laying into Mr. Muhammadi.
One of the first speakers wanted a system in which party candidates would be selected from the grassroots level rather than being nominated in Baghdad. Another was outraged that a village with 1,800 families had no polling centers.
Mr. Jubouri, a Sunni Arab, lobbied Mr. Muhammadi to have American soldiers guard the polling centers in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin, where the mosque bombings occurred last week, rather than have Kurdish forces watch over them, for fear of ballot stuffing by the Kurds.
"The electoral commission sometimes faces very big problems that you can't imagine," Mr. Muhammadi said with exasperation.
So went the two-hour meeting, with Mr. Muhammadi juggling hostile questions from all sides. When it ended at 1 p.m., he stepped off the dais to eat cake with the politicians. He looked tired, but told reporters that "there were no surprises today" and that "there is trust in the electoral commission."
Then he hopped into the armored convoy for the drive across town to the helicopter landing zone. There was no chance of riding back to Baghdad.