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Sunday's election in Iraq not 'be-all and end-all'

Sunday's election in Iraq not a 'be-all and end-all' but merely a staging post – UN

With conditions far from ideal and security a major problem, Iraq's elections on Sunday should not be seen as "a be-all and end-all," but only one in a series of important staging posts "along an evolving transition" as the country emerges from an extremely traumatic chapter in its history, senior United Nations officials aid today.

Despite the violence and threatened boycotts, "We strongly hope that this election, which should be seen as part of a broader and longer political process of transition, will help stabilize Iraq, in the interest of the Iraqi people," UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told a news briefing in New York.

He noted that everything was ready from the point of view of the UN, whose role has been technical and advisory in helping Iraqis organize the ballot. "From a technical point of view all is done, the arrangements are in place," he said.

Meanwhile, the top UN electoral official said she would have liked to see the United States military curb its "over-enthusiastic" participation in what should be an entirely Iraqi process.

"In terms of how comfortable I am with the US military participating in elections, probably most of the time that we have spent, Carlos Valenzuela (the UN electoral official on the ground) and myself, asking, begging, military commanders precisely not to do that has not been well spent," Carina Perelli, the chief of the UN's Electoral Assistance Division, said in reply to a question.

"The US military has been extremely, I mean I would say over-enthusiastic in trying to help out with this election and we have been basically saying that they should try to minimize their participation because this is an Iraqi process. It's not a UN process, it's an IECI (Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq) process and the IECI has said exactly the same," she added.

"We encourage all Iraqis to exercise their democratic rights," Mr. Prendergast noted, referring to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's oft-stated view that inclusiveness is the key to a successful transition and adding that "fortunately" there will be other opportunities in 2005 to achieve greater inclusion, starting with the constitutional process, a referendum in October and a second general election in December.

"But nothing justifies intimidating or murdering voters, electoral workers or candidates," he said of the insurgents who have declared war on the polls.

He did not think the UN had comprised its standards by participating in the electoral process under the prevailing conditions in a violence-torn and occupied country. "Elections are the way to go," he declared in answer to a question.

Ms. Perelli praised the IECI. "I am amazed at how far the Commission of Iraq has come considering that eight months ago it did not exist," she said.

"At the end of the day we have done - in supporting this election - everything we could from a technical point of view, but nothing replaces the will of the people and therefore Iraqi citizens are faced with a very tough decision…of basically having to confront their fears and confront their hopes and decide by themselves whether they consider that this election is important enough, is valid enough, is legitimate enough in order to risk their lives to go and vote," she added.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Mr. Annan's Special Representative Ashraf Qazi continued his round of talks with leading figures, meeting with the President of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Muhsen Abdul Hamid on ways the UN can further contribute to advancing the political process in Iraq in the post-election period.

Mr. Qazi said the UN would continue to work towards meeting its obligations under Security Council resolutions and would stand by the Iraqis as they move forward. He outlined UN efforts to provide humanitarian and political assistance and explained that while the UN has been providing essential support to the IECI, the Commission has the sole authority over all decisions pertaining to the elections.

In another development, the Governing Council of the UN Compensation Commission entrusted with processing compensation claims suffered from Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91 elected Greece as new president and Japan as one of the two vice-presidents for two-year terms. They replace Germany and Angola.

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