Shias want UN decision on elections

Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest-ranking Shia cleric, wants the United Nations to rule if early elections can take place in the country, in a new embarrassment to the US occupation authorities.

    Shia cleric Ayat Allah Sistani wants early elections

    Washington, which has decreed a lengthy delay before proper elections are held in 2005, can ill-afford to snub the religious leader of Iraq's majority community. 

    "Ayat Allah Sistani maintains his call for elections in Iraq unless a neutral UN committee, appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan, visits Iraq and reaches the conclusion that in the current circumstances it is technically and politically impossible to hold general elections," said interim Governing Council member Muwaffak al-Rubaie. 


    The Governing Council signed a 15 November agreement with the US-led occupation coalition to transfer sovereignty to a transitional national assembly by 31 May next year. 

    General elections would not take place until March 2005, a date Sistani has rejected as far too late. 

    The deal gave no role at all to the United Nations, but
    stipulates that the transitional assembly will be made up of
    notables elected by a 15-member committee.

    Five of the committee would be appointed by the Governing Council, the rest by provincial assemblies. 


    Sistani, who has repeatedly called for general elections to the
    first assembly in the new Iraq, rejected a compromise offered by the Governing Council. 

    Kofi Annan says it is dangerous
    to resume Iraq operations

    "We did not reach an agreement on this question and discussions are continuing between the Governing Council and the Marjaiya" (Shia leadership), Rubaie told reporters. 

    He met Sistani for three hours along with Ahmad Chalabi, another Governing Council member who is also a Shia, but Sistani threw out their  proposal for a referendum, Rubaie added.

    "We put forward a compromise proposal: the appointment of a
    committee of  100-150 people from all political currents in Iraq, including those not represented on the council." 

    The names would then be put to a national referendum which
    Rubaie said would be "easier to organise than general elections" that require constituencies to be drawn up, a list of candidates and an electoral campaign. 


    The interim council's 25 members are clearly divided over the
    election issue.

    The debate pits those whose prime objective is the return of sovereignty and an end to occupation against

     those who stress that the Iraqi people must first be consulted to give legitimacy to any new leaders. 

    Annan ruled out in a report this week any quick return to Iraq
    for the United Nations, saying it remained too dangerous to put his staff at risk. 

    But he nevertheless said emergency and humanitarian work could be stepped up despite the grim outlook for security. 



    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    We visualised 1.2 million votes at the UN since 1946. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the world today?

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.