Iraq's Arab Muslims have been rejecting the 15 November 2003 agreement between the US civil governor, Paul Bremer, and the then interim chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, Jalal Talabani.

 

This agreement stated that another appointed Iraqi council would rule the country from 30 June 2003, with general elections being pushed back to 2005. However, Iraq's Arab Shia population want 30 June to be the date when rule is handed over to a directly elected government.

 

Arab Sunnis argue that liberation should be achieved before any election, while Iraqi Kurds (who are also Sunni Muslims) favour the 15 November agreement, which would support their hopes for an autonomous state. 

 

Balancing act

 

As the arrival of a UN team to Iraq to assess the feasibility of holding swift elections draws closer, parties involved in the process hope to show their acceptance of UN involvement while sticking to their demands. 

 

Personal security for Iraq's
citizens remains a concern

The Shia authority Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani has vowed to keep an "open mind" when dealing with the UN team. But Shaikh Abd al-Mehdi Karbalai, the representative of Sistani in Karbala, said that if the UN team ruled elections were not feasible before the 30 June handover deadline, the Shia clergy would "insist on a formula closer to elections than designations".

 

Dr Mohammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, the spokesman of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (the highest Sunni authority in Iraq), said: "All that is being done is a kind of attempt to fill the gaps caused by the occupation.

 

"The substantial question here is: Do the US occupation authorities want an interim government in order to pull out from Iraq, or do they want a body to keep the country safe for them?" he said.

 

"We have to take into consideration the intentions of the occupation, in order to take proper decisions that serve our interests as Iraqis."

 

US elections

 

The 30 June deadline is also said to have implications for Bush's election campaign. 

 

Baher Shaarawi, an Arab political analyst and broadcaster based in the US, said: "I think the IGC urged the UN to set this date. It was not a US suggestion.

 

Analysts believe President Bush
needs more fuel 
for his campaign

"The US wished there would be a longer period for Iraq to rebuild its infrastructure in order to be capable of holding direct elections. There are popular demands inside Iraq to hold elections, but everyone knows that no proper census and the lack of security are obstacles."

 

Shaarawi also believes that Bush enjoys enough power to win the US election. "I do not think that the 30 June date has anything to do with Bush's election campaign," he said.

 

"Bush has two powerful cards: the capture of Saddam Hussein, and Libya's decision to open its WMD programme for international and US inspection teams. Bush will use these two issues to promote his foreign policy."

 

However, the London-based Iraqi political analyst Dr Abd al-Hadi al-Tamimi disagrees.

 

"The American elections represent a real pressure on President Bush. He is keen to disengage the US military and foreign policy from the quagmire of Iraq in order to avoid being blamed by his opponents for the invasion of Iraq and the consequent loss of lives that the US military is sustaining," he said.

 

Tamimi believes that Iraq with haunt Bush during the election campaign and that a second presidential term for him is no foregone conclusion.

 

"Capturing Saddam and the situation in Libya are not enough and will not distract the attention from the main issue," he said. "The democrats will not sit idle and let Bush happily take credit for these two achievements. He needs to say it is settled in Iraq."

 

Saddam Hussein has been out of the game since last April, and was captured in December. So, by the time of the US elections in November this year, the issue of Saddam will be forgotten."