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Election preparations continue despite violence

At a school in Jadriyah where residents always came to cast their votes under the former regime, Talib al-Karradhi, the headmaster, wants to know why no one has contacted him yet about the election expected in January. "We were told by the Ministry of Education to cooperate with the election people, but no one has visited us yet, al-Karradhi said. While fighting continues in some insurgent-held cities north and west of Baghdad, the quiet, middle-class neighbourhood of Jadriyah is safe for voters, Abdul Abbas, 40, a teacher, told IRIN. Other places around Iraq might not make good polling stations because people might bring guns and fight, but not in Jadriyah, he said. "In Abu Ghraib or Fallujah [two insurgent strongholds] there might still be fighting in January," Abbas said. "We invite those voters to come here. Coalition forces mounted a campaign last week to take back insurgent cities before the election gets underway. Cities in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in central Iraq loyal to former President Saddam Hussein are being closely monitored. Some are being hit by bombs, including Fallujah, where scores have been killed in recent raids; and Samarrah, where fighting killed 90 insurgents on Friday. Cities such as Fallujah have been considered "no-go" areas where Coalition forces do not currently patrol. Regardless of the violence, election workers are moving forward, Carlos Valenzuela, a UN technical adviser to the election commission, told IRIN. Ten workers in Amman, Jordan, have created the preliminary election register using the database of the former UN-administered food distribution system, he said. Information sheets will be printed for each family in Iraq so that when they go to the ration card centres where they pick up a monthly food basket, they will be able to check the voter registration list. At 550 registration centres around the country, with 10 registration clerks per station, voters will be able to make corrections to the current roll, starting in November. After 15 December, the final list will be printed and posted for all to see, according to officials. "So far, there have been no problems. All preparations for voter registration have been done," Valenzuela said. "They have recruited all the staff that they require." UN staffers in Iraq have kept a low profile during the process to date, giving technical advice to an independent eight-member election commission of Iraqis, the official said. "There was never any idea that the United Nations would come in massive numbers to run the elections," Valenzuela said. "From the very beginning, the model of support was what we're doing right now - a combination of providing technical assistance, helping with the training and mobilising resources." Iraqis must understand that the system is a credible one, but that the UN is not going to run the election, Valenzuela said. That's why those election commissioners cannot fail in their job, Hussein Hindawi, head of the group, told IRIN. The independent, non-partisan commission was chosen in a United Nations-sponsored process. Already, election poll workers have been hired in places like Ramadi and Salahadin, places where insurgents have asserted themselves in the past. "There are a lot of problems, but we are confident that elections can happen. It's the only solution to save the country and guarantee the prosperity of the Iraqi people," Hindawi said. "We are deeply optimistic and realistic at the same time." To question whether violence would hinder or even stop voting in places around Iraq didn't make any sense, since there was no way to predict the future four months away, Hindawi said. "People tell us they want this election," he stressed. "It's the only way to close this chapter of more than 30 years of dictatorship." But the violence question is so pressing that Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih also brought it up in a press conference to discuss security on Thursday. The interim government, named in a United-Nations sponsored process, is committed to holding elections, Salih said. "There are certain areas not prepared right now to participate in these elections," he explained. "[But] we're not talking about excluding any areas of Iraq. We are determined to stabilise the situation across Iraq so that free and fair elections can be held."

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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