The new 100-member Iraqi national assembly met for the first time in the capital Baghdad earlier in the week to nominate a speaker as part of preparations for the election scheduled for next January.
International leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, have called for a vote to elect a national parliamentary body to be held no later than the end of January 2005. A UN team this spring said it would take eight months to prepare for a national election in Iraq.
An appointed election commission has started working behind the scenes, according to Azet Sadik, an adviser to the national assembly, named a little less than two weeks ago in a UN-sponsored process.
"The UN workers finished their job," Sadik told IRIN in Baghdad. "Now the election commission is responsible for doing that job," he added. UN workers are expected to be closely involved in election preparations. Poor security remains one of the biggest hurdles to an Iraqi election.
The assembly was named in mid August from more than 1,100 participants gathered from around the country. It is meant to serve as a legislative "check" on an interim government named in a previous UN-sponsored process in June, according to experts.
"We hope the council [assembly] will stand up for the democratic process," a US diplomat told IRIN. "The council is going to be a body of oversight."
Members of the assembly have the power to question any of the more than 30 ministers or other leaders in the interim government, the diplomat said.
Advisers are suggesting that the assembly establish rules to question others in the government, something that should be addressed in a "code of conduct" or list of rules expected to be approved in the next few days, Sadik said.
"We did not have any experience with democracy. The previous national body under Saddam Hussein, they were what you would call 'rubber stamps'," Sadik said. "We need to make rules on how to run our meetings, the responsibilities of our leaders, and other things," he stressed.
Government rules in Lebanon, Morocco and some European countries were studied to write a draft of the regulations expected to be approved, Sadik said. Both the interim government and the national assembly work legally under the Transitional Administrative Law written by US administrators and approved by a previous group of leaders before the handover of power to Iraqis in late June.
Fuad Masoum, the organiser of the national conference to name the assembly in mid-August, is expected to be named speaker of the new assembly, Sadik said. Masoum was a government leader in northern Iraq in recent years. Many observers were critical of how the body was chosen, since, in the end, only one slate of candidates was put forward.
Even though organisers had said slates of candidates would go to a vote, a slate of mostly independent candidates withdrew at the last minute. The slate then named is one supported by Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister.
The assembly is almost evenly split religiously, with 45 Shi'ite Muslims, 44 Sunni Muslims and a small number of members from minority religions. Some 25 are women. More than half of the group is identified as "secular", the US diplomat said, although it's not clear if that also means the body is expected to be moderate.
Iraq does not have many political parties, although 10-20 percent of the group is identified with the Dawa Party, a conservative, religious group often seen as having ties with Iran, he said.
Social issues are also to be addressed by the group, the diplomat said, with political, economic, educational, foreign relations, health and social affairs, family and women, and security committees all expected to be named.
Iraqi leaders and advisers have discussed creating an assembly of 270 members in the January election. Of that number, voters may get to vote for lists of candidates as small as 12 or as large as 175 members, the US diplomat said.
"There is a premium placed on political parties," the diplomat added. "There will be an effort to pull smaller parties into the orbit of the larger lists. But when everybody wants to be chief, it's hard to get people to come together."
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