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Archive for Friday, February 27, 2004

Shiite cleric seeks Iraq elections by year’s end

February 27, 2004

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— Iraq's most prominent Shiite cleric signaled Thursday that he would accept the installation of an unelected government after June 30 if elections are set -- possibly at the end of the year -- and the United Nations guarantees the date.

Although the timetable for the ballot is shorter than suggested by the United States, the statement by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani indicated an agreement was taking shape to end the U.S. occupation on schedule.

Such an agreement would probably involve a weak Iraqi administration assuming sovereignty June 30 with its primary mission to organize an election in concert with U.N. and U.S. experts.

It is now up to the United Nations, the U.S.-run occupation authority and the Iraqi leadership to decide how to constitute such a government, one not only acceptable to the country's majority Shiites but to the Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkomen and Christians as well.

The United States has said it would prefer expanding the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council to include more Sunnis and other groups to enhance the body's legitimacy among Iraq's 25 million people.

Al-Sistani had initially demanded elections to choose a transitional legislature, which in turn would appoint a government. The United Nations agreed with the Americans that elections were not feasible before June 30 because of the security situation, the absence of census data and the lack of an election commission and other infrastructure.

U.S. officials have expressed doubt that elections can occur this year, given the slow pace of decision-making by the Governing Council.

Sunni Arabs on the council are anxious to move slowly, fearing an early ballot would cement control by the majority Shiites.

Sunnis held prominent posts under Saddam Hussein.

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