What will a politicized census mean to Iraq

Nearly five months passed after the Iraqi parliamentary elections on March 7, 2010 and the new government is still not formed. While there is a lot of political activity and negotiations between the biggest parties, but “everything..suggests that a solution could still be a long way off”. There are also frequent statements coming from the ministry of planning with details and reminders about an impending general census in October of this year, tacitly anticipating the continuation of the incumbent government until then. The most recent report “confirmed” that the total change in population is no more than 5% for most provinces of Iraq, and that the reason for postponement of the last two intended dates was fear of politicizing the process, which begs the question: What happened since then to make us believe politicizing will not happen this time around? The politicizing of the March elections from debaathification to the Supreme Court interpretation of article 79 confirms rather than reduces the fear of politicizing the process.

There isn’t much in a process of census that can be politicized except manipulating the form and excluding legitimate Iraqis. The non-Kurdish minorities of Karkuk already voiced their concern from manipulation and exclusion. The rest of Iraq and expats are more concerned about the formation of the government but there is no denying that a government run census carries with it the current government’s credibility, which is very low. The risk is people with sympathies for the opposition, especially expats and internal refugees, could be intimidated because the information of their whereabouts can be leaked to militias. On a personal level I visited Iraq last year, the most memorable events were the exchanges at the numerous check point when the guard asks the driver if there were any “mubaadeen” or unofficial exiles among the passengers, these are numerous Iraqi citizens who were unofficially “asked” to leave their homes for political or sectarian reasons and therefore may not participate in a government run census. The exchanges showed me that the main purpose of the checkpoints is to intimidate and capture the exiles, not the terrorists, with their dysfunctional bomb detectors. The census management by the UN is necessary to include all Iraqis.

There is recent news about calls for short-term intervention by the UN in order to settle the peaceful transition of power; this is totally different from what is called for here. Such intervention may or may not be supported by existing legal mechanisms, could backfire and possibly will harm the parties it is meant to help, but the damage to the security of Iraq and the region from a census with wide exclusions will be more permanent, more difficult to reverse than a protracted conflict over power transition. In all cases the UN’s involvement should be based on crystal clear mandate, not contravene the constitution or sovereignty of Iraq and should not appear to be long term or on behalf of a particular internal or external party. We call for the UN to declare its willingness to supervise census and the elections directly if asked to do so by the GOI or by Security Council resolution, such declaration will offer the negotiating parties and the Iraqi public the opportunity to discuss such action in advance and to assess the costs and consequences in an open manner.

A politicized census run by the current Government of Iraq means that many Iraqis will not be counted either by fear or by politically motivated exclusion, this will create a security and humanitarian situation in the region and will absolve the government of Iraq of its responsibilities towards its uncounted citizens, and will infringe on their human rights as recognized by the UN charter.

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