|Najaf - Voices of Iraq|
NAJAF, Sept. 6 (VOI) – The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq Staffan de Mistura on Saturday discussed with top Shiite Cleric Ali al-Sistani in his Najaf residence UN efforts to solve the dispute over the provincial council elections law.
"The world organization is fully prepared to help the Iraqi people express their opinion," the U.N. official said during a press conference held in front of Sistani's house on Saturday.
"This is my second visit to his Eminence Sistani and it was my honor to listen to his advice and opinions. We both examined the United Nation's role in helping the Iraqi people in the fields of elections, economic development, and to find solutions to disputed issues," de Mistura said.
The official stressed the need for holding provincial council elections on time.
"In my opinion, there is no reason for not holding elections on time," he said.
Iraqis "suffered a lot from dictatorship" and are entitled to choose their representatives through elections, he added.
The Iraqi government relies on provincial council elections, which are supposed to be held on October 1, 2008, to curb violence in the war-scarred country by including a number of armed groups in the Iraqi political process.
On July 22, the Iraqi Parliament, with the approval of 127 deputies out of 140 who attended the session, passed the law on provincial council elections, which includes an article postponing the elections in the city of Kirkuk.
Lawmakers from the Kurdistan Coalition had withdrawn from the session in protest against Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani's decision to have a secret balloting over article 24 of the law, pertaining to the status of Kirkuk. Balloting over all the other paragraphs of the law, however, was open.
The Presidential Board, with the unanimity of President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies Adel Abdelmahdi and Tareq al-Hashimi, rejected the law in a rapid reaction one day after the Iraqi Parliament passed it during a session that raised hue and cry over its constitutionality.
The law drew angry reactions from the Kurds, who considered the way the law was passed as a "twisting of the constitution," threatening to use the right of veto, granted by the Iraqi constitution for the Presidential Board, headed by President Talabani, a Kurd, to reject the law and return it to the Parliament for debate.
Najaf, about 160 km south of Baghdad, has an estimated population of 900,600 in 2008, though this has increased significantly since 2003 due to immigration from abroad. The city is one of the holiest cities of Shiite Islam and the center of Shiite political power in Iraq.
Najaf is renowned as the site of the tomb of Ali Ibn Abi Taleb (also known as "Imam Ali"), whom Shiites consider to be the righteous caliph and first imam.
The city is now a great center of pilgrimage from throughout the Shiite Islamic world. It is estimated that only Mecca and Medina receive more Muslim pilgrims.
The Imam Ali Mosque is housed in a grand structure with a gilded dome and many precious objects in its walls.