UN ‘cannot observe’ Iraqi elections
By Mark Turner in New York and Roula Khalaf in London
January 20 2005
United Nations diplomats are warning that Iraq's first democratic election will be held without wide-scale international monitoring.
The UN says it cannot observe the January 30 poll because it played a role in setting up the elections, and no other international organisation has stepped in to offer assistance.
The absence of international monitoring could undermine confidence in the results of elections that are already threatened by widespread voter intimidation and the boycott of Sunni Arab parties.
But one UN official said there would be sufficient scrutiny by local party observers and domestic non-governmental organisations. “It's not essential to have international election observers,” said Carlos Valenzuela, the UN's Iraq election expert. A Canada-based umbrella group of electoral experts, the International Mission for Iraqi Elections, was established in December to help assess the process, but insists it is not a monitoring mission.
“Monitoring is a big problem. There won't be any international observation mechanism,” said one UN diplomat. “The UN is not willing. No one is willing. No one wants to send their people there.”
Even the number of Iraqis expected to oversee the process was “less than expected or needed”.
The diplomat described IMIE as a “last-minute” initiative, which will send experts to Jordan and Baghdad's green zone “to provide a kind of out-of-country monitoring mission”.
Another claimed it would provide helpful scrutiny of “organisational points of the process”, but added: “You can't expect international monitors to be located across the country.”
IMIE refuses to answer press enquiries about its job. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, its head, refuses interview requests, and journalists are referred to the body's website.
The website says IMIE will “follow the election preparations and make informed judgments, and build capacity and confidence through assessment of identified targets and activities”, using “a wide array of review and monitoring techniques both off-site by electoral experts and on-site in Iraq by specialists”.
What that means in practice remains unclear, some diplomats say.
By contrast, there is no shortage of volunteers to monitor out-of-country voting, which will mostly take place in Syria, Jordan and Iran. The ballots will be counted by the International Organisation for Migration, with the results tabulated and sent to Baghdad.
Many international organisations, including the European Union, have offered to send observers for that process. But problems remain. There are no accurate statistics, for example, showing the number of Iraqis living outside the country. Moreover, only voters in countries where the IOM operates will be able to take part in the elections.
The IOM estimates there are between 3m and 4m expatriate Iraqis, only half of whom are believed to live in countries where the vote will take place. It says the total number of eligible voters outside Iraq is about 1m.
Simon Chesterman, head of the Institute for International Law and Justice at New York University, says the lack of international observation is a serious problem.
“Elections have become viewed as the test of political transformation, and the only way to verify that test is to have some kind of independent analysis,” he says.
“The fact that security in Iraq is so bad that no one will go to observe the elections suggests that even if they pass without incident, they have failed.
“Elections whose results are not believed are worse than no elections at all. If, when results come out, there is a dispute, and there is no way of resolving that impartially, there is a great danger that instead of resolving political tensions in Iraq it will create them.”
Additional reporting by Steve Negus in Baghdad