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Q&A: Elections in Iraq

Iraqis to Vote on Jan. 30 in Historic Election

By Jeffrey Marcus
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2005; 9:30 AM

For What Offices Are Elections Being Held?

On Jan. 30, Iraqis will elect a 275-seat National Assembly.

Who Is Running the Election?

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) will oversee the election under the electoral law. The IECI is run by Iraqi citizens with the involvement of an international electoral expert chosen by the United Nations. The rules and timing are prescribed by the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and confirmed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 (pdf).

Iraqi Election Voting Posters
Iraqi Election Voting Posters
The shadow of an Iraqi man is cast on a wall covered with posters encouraging Iraqis to vote Jan. 30 in the country's first free democratic elections since its founding in 1932. (Hadi Mizban - AP)

What Will Be the Duties of the National Assembly?

The National Assembly will have a one-year mandate to write a new constitution. It will elect a president and deputies who will in turn choose a prime minister. The constitution, expected to be completed by August 2005, must then be ratified by Iraqis in the fall before a permanent government can be elected in December under the rules of the new constitution. The national legislative body will govern all of Iraq's 18 provinces under the authority of the TAL implemented in March 2004 by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

What Is the Security Situation for the Elections?

The security situation in Iraq is very dangerous. But the Iraqi interim government and the Bush administration insist the election will happen Jan. 30.

Allawi Says Violence May Impede Voters (Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2005)

Deadly car bombs, assassination attempts and kidnappings have been almost daily occurrences in Iraq in advance of the elections. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that such attacks are likely to increase before Jan. 30 and have implemented security measures aimed at preventing violence on election day. The Washington Post reports that "travel between provinces will be prohibited, no weapons will be allowed on the streets and the country's borders and airports will be closed. Iraqis also will be banned from congregating near polling centers and checkpoints."

Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian whose al Qaeda-linked group has asserted responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in postwar Iraq, has vowed to disrupt Sunday's elections.

Militant Declares War on Iraqi Vote (Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2005)

Insurgents have been targeting candidates and election workers as part of their campaign to disrupt the election. Names of many candidates are being withheld for security reasons and only candidates with existing security details have been able to go public with their candidacy. Few candidates are campaigning for fear they or their families will become targets and some observers worry that attacks will keep voters from going to the polls.

Security Issues Threaten to Skew Iraq Vote (Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2005)

Who Is Running?

There are roughly 19,000 candidates running for National Assembly or regional legislatures. Candidates may run as independents or on a party list. There are 111 party lists, which include more than 7,000 candidates. Names must appear in rank order on the party lists and every third candidate in order must be a woman. Seats will be allocated through a system of proportional representation, meaning that if, for example, a party list gets 20 percent of the vote, then roughly the first 20 percent of the candidates on that party's list will be seated.

According to analysts and rudimentary polling numbers, the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite groups endorsed by the revered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is the leading slate, fielding 228 candidates. This list includes members of the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as Shiites allied with the young cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose forces twice did battle with U.S. troops last year. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is leading a secular party, the Iraqi National Accord, and is also expected to do well in the elections. The Kurds in the north are fielding their own slate, the Kurdish Alliance, the only list representing Iraq's substantial Kurdish minority.

But voters may only know the party name when selecting a list of candidates on their paper ballot as the release of candidate lists has been put off for logistical and security reasons.

Any Iraqi who is at least 30 years old, has a high-school diploma and was not a high-ranking member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party or responsible for atrocities under Hussein's regime may run for office. Lower ranking members of the Baath Party who have renounced their affiliation may run. Current members of the Iraqi armed services may not run.

Who Will Vote?

According to the electoral law (pdf), all Iraqi citizens or those entitled to reclaim Iraqi citizenship born before Dec. 31, 1986 may register to vote. More than 14 million Iraqis are eligible. Iraqi voters must register with the IECI. An International Republican Institute poll shows that more than 60% of Iraqis are "very likely to vote."

Some leaders of Iraq's Sunni minority have said they will not participate in the elections. It is unclear whether or not Sunnis living elsewhere will boycott the vote. Security conditions in some areas of Iraq -- especially the Sunni Triangle, the heart of the anti-occupation insurgency -- may make it dangerous for many Iraqis to participate.

Absentee voting for Iraqis living abroad will be allowed in 14 countries including the United States. The Iraq Out of Country Voting Program, administered by the International Organization for Migration, will run voting facilities in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, Tenn., and the Washington, D.C., area.

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