Bush to Sistani: Good to Have you Working with Us
It turns out that President George W. Bush did meet on Thursday with four members of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council. All 24 had been invited to a Thanksgiving Day event at the Baghdad Airport, but they were not told the nature of the event. So, only four showed up. One was Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite member from Basra and an ex-al-Da`wa Party member, who is a follower of Sistani. In al-Hayat, al-Rubaie is quoted as saying that Bush:
“asked us to convey a detailed letter to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, informing him of Bush’s appreciation and personal respect for him. In it, he affirmed that ‘we share with one another a basic goal, which is to make the Iraqi people happy, to return liberty to it, and to build democracy and achieve economic prosperity for it.”
Al-Rubaie said that Sistani was unhappy that two thirds of parliament would be appointed by local city councils that were themselves largely unelected, and which therefore lacked legitimacy and do not really represent the Iraqi people.
Another Shiite IGC member, the female physician, Raja’ al-Khuza`i, told al-Sharq al-Awsat that in his letter Bush had agreed that elections must ultimately be held, but said that the June hand-over date must be respected (implying that full elections as opposed to caucuses could not take place by then). She quoted Bush as saying, “It is your country. You are responsible for it. You must work hard to respect the [Nov. 15 transition] Agreement.”
Al-Khuza`i also described the remarks of IGC president Jalal Talabani to Bush. Talabani said that direct elections would take so long that the June deadline would be missed. He also dismissed the idea of using ration cards, saying that many Iraqis possessed multiple such cards, whereas others have none.
Mouwafak al-Rubaie told al-Sharq al-Awsat that local elections on a one person one vote basis might be a good idea. He was echoed by Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, an official of the Shiite al-Da`wa Party, who said local elections were a good idea because “the goal is the participation of the greatest possible number of Iraqis in the process, in order to endow it with the greatest possible degree of legitimacy.”
An independent Sunni Arab nationalist on the IGC, Nasir Chadurchi, said that he did not think the Iraqi people were ready for a popular vote. Talabani’s spokesman agreed with him, also pointing to the lack of security as an impediment. He did think it might be good to elect more muncipal councils, which now mainly consist of US appointees.
Al-Hayat quotes Imad Shabib, a member of the political bureau of the “National Accord” (ex-Baathist officers), saying that a census to establish electoral rolls would take at least 14 months. He said that the problem with using the food aid rolls prepared for the UN food program was that they excluded the Kurds in the north, as well as the Iraqis who were living abroad in 1997.