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CPA sticks to Iraq caucus plan, but willing to compromise

Shiites welcome compromise for direct elections

Iraqis lie down in the street in Baghdad Monday carrying portraits of Shiite clerics while peacefully demanding an elected government.
Iraqis lie down in the street in Baghdad Monday carrying portraits of Shiite clerics while peacefully demanding an elected government.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A Coalition Provisional Authority official Thursday said the United States still favors caucuses and not direct elections to choose the Iraqi transitional legislature this spring.

Dan Senor, adviser to civilian administrator Paul Bremer, said the coalition is willing to consider refinements in its caucus plan and eagerly awaits a proposed U.N. assessment on the possibility of direct elections before the U.S. political handover to Iraqis this summer.

"We are looking forward to the possible deployment of a technical team being sent here to look at the viability of direct elections," Senor said. "We are not seriously considering any other options at this point."

Under the handover plan, the legislature has to be elected by May 31 and it must choose a transitional administration that would take power by July 1, ending the U.S.-led administration. The assembly would govern until a new constitution is developed and elections are held in 2005.

The issue of direct elections vs. caucuses represents a major political problem for the Iraqi sovereignty process.

The Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council proposed the caucus-style selection of the transitional national assembly, even though they support the principle of direct elections. They say a fair, viable electoral infrastructure cannot be cobbled together in a few months.

But Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's top Shiite cleric, has been pushing for direct elections.

Sistani and the Shiite masses, who represent 60 percent of the Iraqi population and would benefit from democratic elections, believe direct elections can be staged within months.

Continued foreign rule unacceptable

Governing Council and Shiite officials are trying to reach a meeting of the minds. The council asked the United Nations to come up with proposals to solve the matter.

The United Nations -- which is amenable but has not yet formally agreed to taking on the task -- was planning to send a small security detail to Iraq, possibly paving the way for a political team.

The United Nations was asked to determine the feasibility of holding elections over the next several months and of an electoral process for a constitutional convention and direct elections after the transitional Iraqi government takes power.

Senor said the coalition is open to the idea of clarifications and elaborations to the transition process set down in a November 15 blueprint.

Shiites indicate that Sistani respects the U.N. expertise and would be open to its suggestions.

Thursday, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite Governing Council member, told CNN he "strongly" believes there can be a compromise, such as delaying the handover process and holding direct elections later this year.

"We're suggesting basically either keeping the Governing Council and handing over the sovereignty to it or ... having the election after the first of July in three months time or nine months time from now or 12 months time now, basically delaying the process but handing more authority more responsibilities to Iraqis," Rubaie said.

Rubaie said Sistani is reasonable and will understand if the United Nations says it is impossible to hold direct elections under the handover timetable.

"If the United Nations team of experts say that it's impossible to hold an election now, the question is, what is the best alternative to a general election? Would it be an approved list by the three major communities in Iraq; they agree on an approved list, and this list put out for a referendum? Is it something else? What is it?"

He added, "Our Iraqi experts are telling us that it is practically possible to have elections in six to nine months. So we need to find out what is the best alternative to the general elections."

Adnan Pachachi, this month's president of the Iraqi Governing Council, also proffered compromise possibilities, but has made clear that he favors adherence to the June 30 transition date.

"If the transfer of power were to be made to an expanded Governing Council, which would be more representative than it is at present, provided that elections would be held, in that case ... that's a possibility," he said during a talk at the National Press Club Wednesday night.

Delays, he has said, could push back sovereignty.

"But to keep the country under occupation and keep the country being administered by foreigners is unacceptable."

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