Iraq Looks To U.N. On Elections

In this Sept. 21, 2009 photo, Greg Taylor is photographed in the library he manages at the Johnston Correctional Institute in Smithfield, N.C. Taylor has been imprisoned 16 years for a murder he says didn't commit. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 4, 2009 that they believed Taylor to be innocent. His case will now move on to a three-judge panel to be convened by the chief of the State Supreme Court. Craig Taylor, an inmate at Scotland Correctional Institute, says he committed the 1991 killing. (AP Photo/News & Observer, Shawn Rocco)
AP Photo/News & Observer
Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim cleric is willing to compromise on his demand for early elections if U.N. experts tell him they are not feasible, a Shiite politician said Wednesday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani's insistence that Iraqi voters choose a transitional legislature has jeopardized a U.S. plan to transfer power to Iraqis and end the U.S. occupation of Iraq by July 1.

The American plan involves choosing lawmakers in 18 regional caucuses to be held across the country in May. The assembly would then appoint a provisional government that would govern until elections in 2005.

Coalition officials maintain there is not enough time to hold legislative elections before the power transfer because of the unstable security situation and the absence of voter rolls and an election law.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is considering a U.S. request to send a team to Iraq to see if elections are possible before June 30. Washington hopes the team will convince al-Sistani to drop his election demand.

In other developments:

  • Three U.S. soldiers and seven other people were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near the northern city of Mosul Wednesday. The explosion took place as three American vehicles were passing, but the force of the blast hit two civilian cars as well, says CBS News Reporter Lisa Barron.
  • In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Bush defended the Iraq war, which has claimed more than 500 American lives. "Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," he said. No weapons or advanced programs have yet been found.
  • On Tuesday night, armed Iraqi guards of a private company accidentally shot and killed an Iraqi policeman, Lt. Ahmed Mufeed, said in the northern city of Kirkuk, Gen. Shakir Sherko, the chief of the city police, said.
  • Kuwait informed a U.S. envoy it may reduce Iraq's $12 billion to $15 billion in debts, but did not reveal by how much. The Bush administration is trying to get countries to forgive much of Iraq's $120 billion in IOUs.
  • British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended the U.S.-led coalition's decision to go to war in Iraq and lobbied for international support in that country's postwar rebuilding at the World Economic Forum, where Iraq weighed heavily for a second year. "I am in no doubt that if we had sat on our hands and not acted, the world would be today a much more dangerous place," he told a packed early session.
  • Poland pledged that it would continue its role in Iraq, where it joined the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein and now heads an multinational peacekeeping force including some 2,400 Polish soldiers in south-central Iraq.
  • Sending Japanese troops to Iraq is consistent with the nation's pacifist constitution, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Wednesday, rejecting allegations that Tokyo's largest and most dangerous deployment since World War II is illegal. Japan's constitution, adopted in 1947 during the U.S. postwar occupation of the country, renounces the use of force.
  • The BBC plans to broadcast a previously unseen interview tonight with Dr. David Kelly, the weapons expert caught up in the fight over weapons of mass destruction who committed suicide and plunged Tony Blair's government into crisis. Tony Blair's government is bracing itself for the results of investigation over the death of the scientist, to be released next week.

    During a press conference Wednesday, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said he believed al-Sistani would accept the U.N. verdict — based on his recent talks with the ayatollah.

    "Based on my conversation with him, if the U.N. team comes and holds a dialogue with the Iraqi side (on) census and electoral matters ... one of the parties may be convinced of what the other party says," al-Jaafari told reporters. "Whatever the outcome, if they reach an agreement, I think al-Sistani will accept it."

    U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has offered to broaden participation in the caucus system to accommodate al-Sistani's demands but insists that the July 1 deadline for transferring sovereignty is final.

    Tens of thousands of Shiites have marched in Baghdad and other cities this week in support of al-Sistani's demand.

    If al-Sistani sticks by his election call, coalition officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that several options were under consideration, including transferring sovereignty to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

    However, coalition spokesman Charles Heatly on Wednesday denied that "other options such as handing over authority to the Governing Council on the first of July are under serious consideration."

    "We're looking forward to the possible deployment of a U.N. technical team and to hearing its assessment," Heatly told the AP. "Meanwhile, we're moving ahead with implementing the Nov. 15 agreement."

    Iraqi Shiites, who form an estimated 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, have generally refrained from attacks on coalition forces. Most of the insurgents are believed to be Arab Sunnis, including members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

    In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Bush said U.S. forces here "are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein's evil regime."

    "As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear ... but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom."

    In Baghdad, a U.S. general said Iraq's new army would need tens of thousands of soldiers equipped with battle tanks and attack aircraft to defend itself after the U.S.-led coalition pulls out.

    Current plans call for the coalition to train three light infantry divisions — or more than 20,000 men — in the coming months, said Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who is heading the training effort. He said the eventual size of Iraq's military would be up to the policy makers who must decide how much to spend on defense.

    "This is a tough neighborhood and three light infantry division do not provide, and will not provide, the endstate defensive requirement for the Iraqi ground forces. It never was intended to be so," he said.