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UN urges Iraq to set election date 'as soon as possible'

British officer criticises post-war planning in Iraq
London (AFP) Dec 7, 2009 - A senior British officer described Monday how he urged Tony Blair to delay the invasion of Iraq two days before it took place because preparations for post-war reconstruction were "woefully thin". Major General Tim Cross, who worked with the US post-war planning office ahead of the March 2003 invasion, told an official inquiry that neither London nor Washington were ready to run Iraq after getting rid of Saddam Hussein. "There seemed to be virtually no political direction as to what post-war Iraq was to look like," Cross told the inquiry, which is examining what lessons could be learned from the US-led conflict. Noting staffing levels for the US Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (Orha) days before the war, he said: "It was all woefully thin."

Cross said he briefed then British prime minister Blair -- who is due to give evidence to the inquiry early next year -- on Orha's work on March 18, two days before the invasion. "We talked for about 30 minutes or so; I was as honest about the position as I could be, essentially briefing that I did not believe post-war planning was anywhere near ready," Cross said in written evidence. "I told him that there was no clarity on what was going to be needed after the military phase of the operation, nor who would provide it. "Although I was confident that we would secure a military victory, I offered my view that we should not begin that campaign until we had a much more coherent postwar plan."

In oral evidence to the inquiry, Cross added: "He (Blair) nodded and didn't say anything particular." Similar briefings to then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld fell on deaf ears. "It was made clear that my views were not welcomed," Cross said. The US government was hampered by "deep animosities" between departments, Cross said, adding that there was a "serious reluctance" in Britain to take on Washington's views and a general sense that the US would deal with it. This was clear on funding, he said: "I sense that the UK had expected the US to 'pick up the bills' as we went along; I am certainly not aware of any substantial sums being put aside by the UK treasury for post-war reconstruction within the UK sector, or indeed elsewhere." In separate evidence on Monday, Edward Chaplin, who in 2004 became British ambassador to Baghdad, blamed US reconstruction plans for stoking resentment in southern Iraqi areas controlled by the British. "They had a huge reconstruction programme, but on both the military training side and on the reconstruction side not much of that was finding its way down to Basra and that was damaging," Chaplin told the inquiry.
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Dec 7, 2009
The United Nations on Monday urged Iraq to announce "as soon as possible" the date for the war-torn country's general election after MPs struck a last-minute deal to get the poll back on track.

The election, the second national vote since the American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, is seen as a crucial step towards consolidating Iraq's democracy and securing a complete US military exit by the end of 2011.

Protracted negotiations over the law governing the election lasted more than two months, but lawmakers finally passed it late on Sunday.

The presidency council, made up of President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies, now has to announce a date for the ballot.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) in a statement said that February 27 was "feasible" and it stood ready to give all possible help to bring this about.

"We now want the Iraqis to set a date as soon as possible so that election organisers can start the administrative process," UNAMI spokeswoman Eliana Nabaa told AFP, stressing that a quick announcement was preferable.

Qassim al-Abboudi, a high-ranking official from the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), said February 27 was formally proposed as the election date at a high level meeting on Monday.

"We and the UN met with Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and we asked that the poll be held on February 27," Abboudi said.

"He (Hashemi) assured us he would work to ensure the presidency ratify the law and fix the election date that we proposed, today or tomorrow."

Under the new law -- hailed by Washington as a "decisive moment for Iraq's democracy" -- the number of MPs will increase from 275 to 325, including three additional ones for provinces in the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan.

From the total, eight seats will be allocated to minorities, including Christians, and seven to smaller parties which win national support but not enough votes to gain representation at provincial level.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Kurdistan regional president Massud Barzani before the law was passed.

Kurdish parties previously expressed concern that their seat allocation in the original law had not risen above that agreed for the last general election in 2005, while predominantly Shiite and Sunni Arab provinces had seen increases.

The new law sidesteps a veto that Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, had threatened, and came just minutes before a midnight deadline for him to block the legislation.

Hashemi vetoed a previous version of the law last month, throwing poll preparations -- the election was originally scheduled for January 16 -- into disarray.

According to the constitution the vote must be held by January 31, but a special provision exists that can extend this by one month.

A spokesman for Britain's foreign ministry on Monday said the passing of the election law was "proof that consensus, inclusion and discussion are replacing violence and division in Iraq."

US diplomats, most notably Christopher Hill, Washington's ambassador to Baghdad, had pushed MPs to pass the law, seeking to avoid delays to the planned pullout of tens of thousands of American troops in 2010.

The United States has 115,000 soldiers in Iraq, but that figure will drop to 50,000 next year as all of its combat troops are pulled out before a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.

However, General Ray Odierno, the top US commander, said last month that the plan was flexible and could change if the security situation deteriorates.

The threat of political violence linked to the election is a major concern for the Iraqi government and US forces after bloody attacks in Baghdad in August and October that killed more than 250 people.

"We believe that there will be an attempt to conduct more attacks between now and the election," Odierno said in November.

A total of 16 people died in violence on Monday, including six children who were killed when a cache of concealed home-made bombs exploded inadvertently while a Baghdad school principal was burning rubbish.

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Six members of an anti Al-Qaeda militia were gunned down in broad daylight near the Iraqi capital on Monday, police said, in the latest in a series of such attacks. The militiamen of the Sahwa (Awakening) movement were manning a checkpoint in Nadeem village, 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of the Iraqi capital, when gunmen using silencers approached at around 9 am (0600 GMT) and shot them ... read more

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