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Iraqi president, UN’s Iraq chief talk early election integrity

Iraq’s early parliamentary elections must be conducted with the “utmost integrity”, President Barham Salih said in a meeting with the head of the United Nations’ mission in Iraq on Monday.

At their meeting in Baghdad, President Salih and Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq “discussed the current political situation in Iraq, including preparations for upcoming early elections,” said the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

According to a tweet from the Iraqi Presidency, Salih “emphasised the need to provide the utmost integrity in the upcoming elections, away from the power of weapons and fraud.”

The United Nations and the Election Commission must also “coordinate… in monitoring it [elections], consolidating state authority and protecting diplomatic missions,” the tweet added.

Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced in July that the country’s next parliamentary elections would take place on June 6, 2021, a year earlier than scheduled.

Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission said in August that it would be ready to hold the early elections – provided that government and parliament meets certain demands, including passing a new electoral law and allocating a budget for the vote. The commission was overhauled by parliament after the last parliamentary election, held in May 2018, because of complaints over how it handled allegations of fraud.

Iraq’s electoral system, built after the US invasion of 2003, divides power among Iraq’s biggest religious and ethnic groups – Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. An overhaul of the sectarian system was among demands made by protesters who took to Iraq’s streets from October 2019 onward.

In recent days, Hennis-Plasschaert has taken part in a series of meetings with heads of Iraq’s political blocs, with discussions including early elections.

She has met with other politically influential figures, including Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. At their meeting in September, Sistani described the elections as being “of great importance”, warning that any delay in a vote will only “deepen” Iraq’s problems.

Hennis-Plasschaert met on Friday with Abdullah Abdulaziz al-Muhammadawi, chief of staff for the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi) and a leader of Kataib Hezbollah — an Iran-backed faction of the PMF accused of killing dozens of Iraqi protesters. Discussion included the need to “combat terrorism” from the Islamic State (ISIS), and return internally displaced Iraqis to their home areas, a statement on the meeting from the PMF read.

Muhammadawi emphasised that the PMF “is an official institution linked to the Iraqi state and subject to the decisions of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces,” a statement on the meeting from the PMF read.

The decision to meet with Muhammadawi was widely condemned, with critics accusing the UNAMI chief of legitimising Kataib Hezbollah.

“The impartiality and independence at the heart of the United Nations mandate mean that we engage with a wide variety of stakeholders in the pursuit of peace,” UNAMI said on Friday evening in apparent defence of the meeting. “Our work in Iraq is no exception. Dialogue is the only solution. Intimidation, violence are never the way forward.”

On a visit to Europe last month, top Iraqi officials asked for European countries to send foreign observers to Iraq for the election.

“One of the demands we made to the European Parliament and the European Union was that we want them to play a role in the preparation of the election and send observers to monitor the election,” Iraqi foreign minister Fuad Hussein told Rudaw while in France. Source