Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, met today in Baghdad with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the role of the United Nations in elections planned for 30 January 2005 in the turbulent country.
The UN's Chief Electoral officer in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, also briefed the British leader on steps that have been taken by the Independent Electoral Commission, with the support of over 20 UN experts, to prepare for the holding of credible and transparent polls.
The UN has helped Iraqis establish the Commission, draft the legislative framework for elections, create voter lists, train some 6,000 temporary electoral workers, open more than 450 registration centres, and begin training up to 130,000 poll workers.
In New York, the Secretary-General hailed this progress and urged Iraqis to go to the polls. "The technical preparations are on track, and I hope all Iraqis will exercise their right to vote," he said at his year-end press conference.
Looking beyond the balloting planned for January, Mr. Annan pledged the world body's support as Iraq attempts to consolidate democracy. "We stand ready, if asked, to help Iraqis as they draw up a constitution and conduct a national referendum and further elections."
Responding to press questions, he voiced concern about the prevailing instability but added that the UN is encouraging the Iraqis "to try and reach out to other people outside the process and make the elections as inclusive as possible."
Mr. Annan emphasized that the broadest possible participation in the elections would serve to foster reconciliation. "If you can get people in all regions to vote it will be better because once they have all participated and played a role in the elections, the likelihood [is] that the results will be accepted by all."
Concerning the ongoing violence, Mr. Annan said, "elections don't take place in a vacuum; the political and security context is important."
Asked whether the elections would need to be postponed, he noted that any decision on timing rested entirely with the Iraqis themselves.