Fears over elections timed to coincide with haj pilgrimage

The announcement that the first elections in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime will be on 30 January was greeted yesterday with warnings that a viable poll could not take place in the continuing climate of violence.

The election campaign will also coincide with the haj in mid-January, and the transit of several million pilgrims from Muslim countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan overland through Iraq to Mecca.

The elections must be held by the end of January for a transitional parliament which will, in turn, pick a new government and oversee the adoption of a constitution, according to the American's timetable for the establishment of representative government.

Diplomatic and military sources say that they expect a determined effort by Islamist groups to smuggle in fighters among the worshippers, with little chance of detecting them. The sheer number of pilgrims will, they say, create a logistical nightmare beside a political campaign in which 120 parties are taking part.

One officer said that those planning the transitional process appeared not to have taken the Muslim calendar into consideration.

The pilgrims will be in Iraq while mosques are being raided by US and Iraqi troops, and with the memory of the bloody battle for Fallujah still fresh in people's minds. A number of Muslim clerics have played leading parts in opposing the US-led occupation forces.

The independent Iraqi electoral commission said that even areas beset by violence will participate in the elections. The commission spokesman Farid Ayar said: "No Iraqi province will be excluded because the law considers Iraq as one constituency and therefore it is not legal to exclude any province."

Many of the voter registration centres are shut because of attacks, and insurgent groups have threatened a wave of attacks to disrupt the election. Both the US and Britain have said they will be sending extra troops to Iraq in anticipation of an increase in violence.

Sunni Arab leaders, including some in Iyad Allawi's interim government, have called for the election to be postponed until the security situation stabilises, and there have been calls for the Sunni population to boycott the polls.

However, leaders of the Shia community, which encompasses a majority of the population, are keen for the elections to be held, and Ayatollah Sistani, the Shia spiritual leader, has urged his co-religionists to take an active part in the polls.

Under the rules, the electorate will vote for a 275-member Transitional National Assembly. Political parties will submit a list of candidates and every third name has to be a woman's.

Parties with affiliations to militias are ineligible to take part, as are former senior members of the Baath party.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before