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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08BAGHDAD2929 2008-09-10 11:56:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
Cable title:  

PROVINCIAL COUNCIL ELECTIONS: ELECTIONS IN 2008

Tags:   PGOV KDEM IZ 
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SUBJECT: PROVINCIAL COUNCIL ELECTIONS: ELECTIONS IN 2008
OR LONG-TERM CAPACITY BUILDING?

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Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Robert Ford for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).



1. (C) Summary: Senior Iraqi election commission (IHEC)
officials told us September 9 that they require 135 days of
lead time between passage of an election law and the holding
of elections to organize credible provincial elections. They
indicated that January 2009 was the earliest date an election
could be held. They expressed concern that pressure -- from
within Iraq or outside -- to compress the timeline would
undermine the credibility of the elections. Meanwhile, a
well-placed international expert working with the election
commission told us that the commission so far has adequate
resources and the institutional capacity to hold an election
in late January. He and a UNAMI official both think IHEC
could conduct an election this year, but compressing the
timeline to do that would strain IHEC's capabilities. As a
result, holding elections this year would likely necessitate
more direct international assistance to the commission,
especially in facilitating operational procurements. It
would necessarily reduce the international donors' focus on
building IHEC's organization capacity. An international
expert working with the election commission asserted to us on
September 8 that reducing the time for election candidate
registration and the duration of the challenge period in
order to hold elections this year also could hurt the
election's credibility. End Summary.



--------------------------


IHEC: We Need Four Months


--------------------------





2. (C) Polmincouns met with senior officials of the
Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Kasim Al-Abodi
and Dr. Usama A. Alani on September 9 to discuss IHEC's
planning and timelines for the upcoming provincial elections.
Both officials stressed that technical preparations up to
now, including voter registration and data entry, had gone
smoothly despite the absence of an election law. Judge
Kassim and Al-Alani both expressed concern that Iraq's
leadership and political parties will make the IHEC the
scapegoat if elections are in any way flawed, whether in
conduct or timing. The officials said the commission was
doing its utmost to prepare the ground work for elections
whenever they might be held to avoid providing any grist to
such charges. Some activities, such as the voter
registration, exposed the IHEC to some risk since they had
expended government funds without actually having an election
officially in the offing.



3. (C) The officials observed that ensuring the credibility
of the election was essential and could only be assured with
a minimum lead time of 135 days between passage of an
election law and the holding of the election. They asserted
that late January 2009 was the earliest a credible election
could be held, assuming expeditious passage of an election
law following the opening of parliament on September 9.



4. (C) Judge Kassim listed some of the tasks that must be
done to hold provincial elections but which cannot be done
before the passage of an election law. For example, they
cannot register candidates or political coalitions until the
new law defines the criteria for them. They cannot register
internally displaced persons to vote until the law defines
precisely what documentation would be required for
registration. They cannot print ballots until they know if
there is an open or closed list system. An open-list system
would require candidate names and a very different ballot
layout for the printers. He pointed to limitations of the
2005 law, which was drafted for national, not provincial,
elections. For example, there are provisions in the new
provincial powers law that conflict with elements of the 2005
law, such as the number of seats in provincial councils.



--------------------------


IHEC Abilities and Tradeoffs


--------------------------





5. (C) An international elections expert who works closely
with IHEC suggested to us September 8 that the commission's
critical path to elections could be reduced to 105 days.
This shorter time span would require that IHEC take Ramadan
'eid and other holidays. He concurred that with this lead
time, generally speaking, IHEC could prepare conduct the
provincial council elections, but he raised concern about the
credibility of the resulting election. He highlighted that
international advisors would have to take a greater role in
the preparations, while the registration and challenge
periods would have to be shortened.



6. The expert opined - in an entirely personal capacity -
that October 1 is the absolute latest date for a new

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mechanism as critical. Working closely with IFES and UNAMI,
IHEC has begun work on this, but requires an election law to
finish. The expert said that even once this framework is
developed, the modalities for investigating and processing
disputes with the security services will need to be
established, and local police forces trained in their duties
and responsibilities with respect to enforcing provisions of
the election law.



12. (C) The expert predicted that IHEC would require
substantial procurement and logistical assistance to pull
off provincial elections by the end of 2008. He said the
programmatic shift from longer-term institutional
development of IHEC to conducting elections in December could
compromise international efforts to build IHEC capacity. He
also warned that an abbreviated critical path would mean that
IHEC would not be able to work on anything else but the
provincial elections. Ongoing work on establishing district
and sub-district council units, preparing for potential
constitutional referenda, elections in the KRG, and
parliamentary elections would fall by the wayside. He also
expressed concern that truncating candidate registration and
challenge periods could
jeopardize the election's credibility.




--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





13. (C) Our policy has been to focus on building QEC's
long-term capacity. Although the combination of USAID and
UNAMI assistance to the IHEC has been substantial, we have
minimized direct involvement in IHEC management operations to
compel it to develop its own organizational capacity. The
warning the international expert left us is that if we
want elections by year's end, we will need to be much more
directly involved in IHEC's procurement, managerial, and
organizational operations. USAID would also have to
reprogram funds, sacrificing on-going long-term capacity
building activities. Of course, UNAMI has the lead in
coordinating assistance to the IHEC and we will stay in close
contact with its team as we assess IHEC's abilities to
conduct provincial elections on relatively short notice.
CROCKER