18 January 2004

U.S. rejected plan for quick Iraq census

'This could have changed things,' said T. Hamid al-Bayati, a senior aide to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Governing Council member who announced last week that Shiite religious leaders opposed the indirect elections. Perhaps, he and others suggested, some council members would have argued last month that the vote on self-government should be delayed until September when the voter roll became available.

Some Iraqis have said they wonder why U.S. officials called for caucus elections in June, in part because a census could not be completed in less than a year, while at the same time rejecting a plan to produce a census more quickly.

Louay Hagi, who oversees the Census Bureau in the Planning Ministry, said the plan was not rushed. In an interview, he said his staff had prepared a detailed timetable for a census that was stripped down from the 73 questions asked in the last census six years ago, to 12 basic demographic queries, enabling the work to be done much faster than the normal two-year time frame.

As it had in the past, the bureau would use 400,000 school teachers to visit every household in Iraq on one day, June 30, said Yousef, the census director. The plan would cost $75 million, Hagi said, in part to buy 2,500 computers. 'We sent the plan to the Governing Council on Nov. 1 and asked for an answer by Nov. 15,' he said. 'We are still waiting for a response.'

Just a necessary reminder that there is an alternative to the caucuses - a free and direct election in September. The Bremer excuse that the census bureau's advice got 'lost in the bureaucracy' passes belief and, in any case, does not explain current US opposition to a free and direct election. Their plan could have been revised once they discovered their error.

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