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Iraq's governing authorities to hold local elections in coming weeks

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and Iraq's Governing Council have decided to hold new elections for local officials in several of Iraq's provinces in preparation for selection of a provisional government and the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq on July 1.

The aim is to reduce corruption and increase democratic participation by replacing local officials who were installed hastily after the U.S. military conquest of Iraq.

Council members are also considering measures to address the concerns of Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohammed al Sistani, the influential Shiite Muslim cleric who has called for direct elections in Iraq, rather than the selection process favored by the coalition.

Council members say that some local leaders in Hilla, formerly a base for the U.S. Marines, and in Dialla, home to many Saddam Hussein sympathizers, were either appointed by the Americans or were too quickly selected in the aftermath of the war and have ties to the former regime.

"We will revise and modify and re-elect those municipalities that we feel there are some bad people," said Adil Abdel Mahdi, a spokesman for Abdul Aziz al Hakim, the current Governing Council president and leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shiite political party.

The re-elections will be held between Dec. 16 and mid-January, said Mahmood Othman, an independent council member and leader of the Kurdish National Struggle.

Council members plan to tell L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, on Wednesday that they want to help supervise the process.

"The coalition has decided that they will make new elections for municipalities and councils, governing councils in the provinces," Othman said. "That will be discussed with Mr. Bremer so that they and we together will supervise elections."

Beyond these new local elections, council members are searching for a compromise with Sistani's demand for direct elections.

The planned provisional government is supposed to be selected by a system of caucuses chosen by organizing committees in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, according to a Nov. 15 plan announced by the council.

Already there is consensus among a majority of council members to weaken the role of the organizing committees, which are to be appointed by a combination of the Governing Council, the regional governor or province leadership and various local community leaders.

"They (the organizing committees) will just supervise the process to make sure it goes smoothly," Othman said, rather than take responsibility for choosing caucus members.

Council members are talking about letting people nominate themselves for office.

Hundreds of candidates could present themselves, based on criteria such as being 30 years old, having a college degree, paying a financial deposit and gathering enough signatures, Abdel Mahdi said. Such a group could then elect a much smaller number of delegates from among themselves to be sent to Baghdad as legislators.

"We are discussing ways of making the process larger and more representative from a popular point of view," Abdel Mahdi said Monday.

There are many ideas and no decisions have been reached. It is unclear whether these approaches would be acceptable to Sistani.

"There will be a selection or election of caucuses between March, April and May, so it's these caucuses that people are talking about now," said Hamid al Kifaey, a council spokesman. "Some people are saying the organizing committee will just supervise the elections. They will have no veto, but they will have to make sure the candidates are not Baathists. These are all just ideas."


(Fan reports for the San Jose Mercury News.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.