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Problems mount for Iraqi vote

A UN memo details added concerns about registration and security before election Jan. 30.

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Planning an election is difficult even under the best of circumstances. As one United Nations consultant remarked, it's "the largest logistical operation that a country undertakes outside warfare." To pull it off, many postconflict nations need at least a year.

Iraq is aiming for eight months.

But with election day less than five weeks away, the Iraqi effort to choose 18 provincial councils and a 275-member National Assembly that will appoint a central government and draft Iraq's constitution is facing serious logistical problems. The short time frame, coupled with the insurgency, is forcing Iraq's election commission to sacrifice both voter education and the safeguards necessary for a fair election. The logistical hurdles also raise questions about the legitimacy of the Jan. 30 vote.

A new memo from the chief UN election official in Iraq, obtained by the Monitor, spells out an array of serious challenges:

• The number of new voter registrations is below expectations.

• Even though polling centers are likely to be attacked, Iraq's election commission is asking to use schools as voting sites, and trying to draft teachers and school administrators to work the polls on election day.

• A security assessment found that the warehouses for storing ballots in some provinces are not "fully defendable" in case of attack.

• The $55 million program for out-of-country voting by Iraqi expatriates has faced "significant delays." Fourteen countries are scrambling to allow eligible Iraqi exiles to vote in the Jan. 30 election.

One of the few bright spots is the number of people who are running for office. Preliminary figures showed close to 19,000 candidates, 6,239 of whom were competing for National Assembly seats.

But in Anbar province, where the violence-torn cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are located, there are only 43 candidates competing for a 41-seat provincial council.

"While there is no technical reason ... to cancel the election (as there are more candidates than seats)," said the memo, "the board is carefully studying the situation to determine whether that election should go ahead as planned."

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