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National assembly a fledgling democracy - experts say

With the announcement that an Iraqi national assembly had been selected during a national conference in Baghdad, experts say it was a good exercise to see a form of democracy in action with participants arguing their points boldly during the event. Delegates continued to horse-trade and lobby for fellow candidates as darkness fell in Iraq on Wednesday. “It looks a bit chaotic, but people are debating, they’re coalescing around candidates,” Jamal Benomar, a UN adviser to the process, told IRIN in Baghdad. “What you see is people learning how to do politics.” A “government list” of candidates to serve on an interim national assembly had only six women; an “independent list” had 20 women. Under rules set by Iraqi organisers, 25 percent of the new government body will be women. Two lists were put forward and one was finally withdrawn, giving approval to some 81 candidates without a vote. Civil society groups criticised both lists, saying they should be included in one list or the other, Jabbar Mustaf, a representative of such groups in Iraq, told IRIN. Many civil society groups in Iraq have formed within the last year; few have independent funding. Mustaf said he also represented local aid agencies in Iraq that deal with health issues, families and children. “Neither list is a good list. They don’t represent the people of Iraq,” Mustaf said. “I filed a formal objection to Fuad Masoum, the conference organiser.” In fact, many candidates objected to the list system altogether, asking why they couldn’t vote separately for candidates who represented different segments of society. The United Nations discussed the pros and cons of various election methods with the Iraqi organisers, but did not recommend the list system, Benomar said. “No electoral procedure will be perfect,” Benomar said. “We advised against the procedure being used now. We asked them to look at other options.” The United Nations stressed that there should be transparency in how people are chosen, Benomar said. Delegates talked inside the conference room and outside over tea. They shouted and grabbed each other’s shirts on occasion, but also came to agreement on various issues. UN officials also called for the process to be inclusive and fair. Conference goers fit into five groups - independents, civil society groups, tribal leaders, political parties and minority groups, Benomar said. Women were to be drawn from all groups except the tribal leaders, a group that does not allow female participants. But women who were in the conference were not necessarily those who would support human rights, Yanar Mohammed, a female activist who runs the Organisation for the Federation of Women in Iraq, told IRIN. Mohammed is not a delegate in the conference, but will hold a separate conference of 20 or so civil society groups in the next few days. Women in the former ruling Baath Party would often tell Saddam’s fedayeen (private army) of other people outside the party who should be taken to jail or killed - often women activists, Mohammed said. “They are rich women who don’t have anything to say about human rights,” Mohammed said. “Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you are going to support women’s rights.” The assembly consists of 100 members that oversee an interim government named in a UN process in June and 81 candidates were approved by delegates at the conference without a vote, with the remaining 19 people taken from the former Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), appointed by the US. It is expected to dissolve in January when an election for a parliament is to be held. An estimated 1,000 delegates remaining at the conference will approve one of the two lists in a process expected to include two rounds of voting. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative to Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, hailed the "spirit of dialogue" during the meeting. He said he hoped that "this considerable development in the transitional process will lead to further dialogue among all Iraqis and wider political participation," a UN statement said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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