By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 23, 2009 - As Iraq's lawmakers craft new election rules prior to January polling there, U.S. officials are confident that both the U.S. troop drawdown and the elections will be accomplished on schedule. "The [Iraq drawdown] timelines that the United States government and the Iraqi government have set out have not changed," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said today in response to a reporter's question at the Pentagon.
The United States remains committed to plans to remove all of its combat forces from Iraq by the end of July 2010, Whitman said. All U.S. troops are to depart Iraq by the end of December 2011.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is gearing up for legislative elections Jan. 16 and for the Jan. 30 general elections.
"With respect to the elections, obviously we are encouraging that they go through with the elections as their constitution states that they have to," Whitman said.
Using the 2005 election law as a starting point, Iraqi lawmakers had aimed to complete work on an updated election law governing the country's voting processes by Oct. 15.
Yet, consensus has yet to be reached on some issues that include how to apportion Kurd and Arab political representation in Kirkuk, part of Iraq's multiethnic northern region; and whether candidates should be identified just by political party, as was the case in the 2005 parliamentary election, or also by name.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is "focused on the elections," Whitman said, noting U.S. drawdown plans remain flexible in light of conditions on the ground.
About 120,000 U.S. troops are now in Iraq. By the end of July 2010, about 50,000 U.S. troops will be in Iraq, when the U.S. military mission there transitions from combat to stability operations.
"I don't think we're really worried" about delays in passage of a new Iraq election law, Army Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, Multinational Force Iraq's deputy chief of staff for strategy, told reporters yesterday during a news briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center.
"We're very comfortable and very hopeful that the law will be passed by the end of this month," Lanza said, "and that it will not detract from the ability to conduct the elections, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, by the end of January."
Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission is the lead agency for conducting the upcoming elections, he said.
"We are confident IHEC will conduct the elections in a fair and impartial manner," he added. And, international observers from the United Nations and other organizations, he said, will be on hand to ensure that the elections are credible and legitimate.
Election results are to be certified by the Iraqi Supreme Court, Lanza said.
The United States is implementing a responsible drawdown timeline, Lanza said, that takes into account operational requirements and the capabilities of Iraq's more than 600,000 soldiers and police.
The Iraqi government, he said, may request U.S. forces' assistance "to ensure a security environment that allows for safe, credible and legitimate elections."