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Cablegate: Basra Referendum Process Moving Forward, May Have Minor

VZCZCXRO7248
RR RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHBC #0082 2901450
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 161450Z OCT 08
FM REO BASRAH
TO RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0387
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0804
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEHBC/REO BASRAH 0841

UNCLAS BASRAH 000082

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM IZ
SUBJECT: BASRA REFERENDUM PROCESS MOVING FORWARD, MAY HAVE MINOR
IMPACT ON PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS

1. (SBU) Summary: During an October 5 visit to the REO,
Governor Wa'eli outlined progress made in his campaign to hold a
referendum to form a Basra Regional Government. Wa'eli said
that a referendum could be held no earlier than March 2009 and
that it would not interfere with provincial elections, scheduled
for January 31. In a follow-up meeting with the British Consul
General, the Governorate Electoral Office (GEO) Director
asserted that his office could handle concurrent referendum and
provincial election registration procedures. End summary.

Status of Referendum
--------------------

2. (SBU) In his update to the REO Director on the Basra
referendum campaign, Governor Wa'eli confirmed that 28,000
signatures were collected, equivalent to over 2% of the
electorate. (Note: Approximately 25,000 signatures are needed to
meet the threshold of 2%. End note.) The next step is for the
GEO to compare the signatures against the list of registered
voters. This last step was supposed to have taken place in the
past week, but has not yet been completed. GEO contacts have
subsequently indicated to the REO that some of the signatures
appear to be invalid and/or repetitive; confirmation will not
necessarily be swift.

3. (U) According to Wa'eli, once GEO confirms the 2%, the
referendum staff would be given another 6 to 8 weeks to get an
additional 8% worth of signatures. After the full 10% is
confirmed by GEO and forwarded to the Independent High Electoral
Commission (IHEC) in Baghdad, the request for a referendum would
be referred to the Council of Ministers and a decision from the
Prime Minister would be required within seven days. After that,
preparations to hold the referendum would take an additional
three months. Wa'eli estimated that March 2009 would be the
earliest possible date for a referendum.

4. (SBU) In his efforts to show broad-based Basrawi enthusiasm
for the referendum, Governor Wa'eli told the REO Director that a
support committee has been formed, including 12 political
parties, Basra social and influential figures, NGOs, tribal
leaders, and Sunni minority representatives.

GEO Director Confident
----------------------

5. (SBU) In a meeting the following day with the British Consul
General, GEO Director Hazim Joda said that the referendum and
provincial elections could take place and be handled
simultaneously. He agreed with the Governor's assessment that
the referendum, if it takes place, would most likely be held
after the provincial elections. He conceded that concurrent
referendum and provincial election registration process might
place a strain on GEO resources, but was not overly concerned.

6. (SBU) Comment: While the idea of making Basra a region is
popular with Basrawis - as Wa'eli puts it, Basrawis have been
asking for this since 1921 - not everyone agrees. Some feel
that the current government structure would suffice if the
contentious relationship between the central and provincial
governments were to improve. It is far from clear that Wa'eli
has the ability to gather 125,000 signatures or acquire final
certification from GEO, IHEC, and the Prime Minister's Office.
If the referendum registration process goes forward during the
provincial election campaign, it may not derail the elections
but will likely detract some of the voters' attention. The
provincial elections may, however, affect the referendum as its
legitimacy could be questioned, given that Wa'eli's outgoing
governing team put the process forth. End comment.

NEGRON

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