BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.N. envoy to Iraq said on Sunday that militants will try but will fail to disrupt the country’s provincial elections on January 31.
The elections are expected to re-draw Iraq’s political map by redistributing powerful regional posts.
Staffan de Mistura also told a news conference that much stronger measures would be put in place to stamp out fraud. “Fraud will not be allowed to take place,” he said.
Tough battles will be fought between rival Shi’ite factions in the oil-rich south and between Kurds and Arabs in the north. Officials expect a surge in bombings and assassinations as tensions rise and different groups jostle for position.
“We are expecting spectacular attempts to try to disrupt the stability of Iraq and of the elections,” De Mistura said.
“But security has improved. The attempts are not going to succeed in disrupting the (direction) in which Iraq is going.”
The vote is seen as a key test of Iraq’s fledgling democracy and a step toward reconciling quarrelling factions, but it is also feared the high stakes could beget violence. Sunni Islamist al Qaeda bombers are likely to target the polls.
“All the political entities and parties (must) make sure that the forthcoming ... days will be as civilized and non-violent as possible,” De Mistura said.
The elections are expected to boost the participation of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who were dominant under Saddam Hussein and now complain they are under-represented.
Many Sunni Arabs stayed away from the last polls in January 2005, which were also marred by bitter accusations of electoral fraud by parliament’s main Sunni Arab bloc and other parties.
De Mistura said that planned safeguards against fraud in January’s election included each polling station having a voter list printed and on display to avoid danger of double voting.
Also a move will be made to bar polling agents from showing party affiliation, he added.
He said that the U.N. mission and another agency had already trained some 60,000 electoral observers and they hoped to have more than three times that number trained for the day.
“We are confident and determined to see that these elections take place on the 31st of January,” he said.