Iraq to hold census on time, government or not

BAGHDAD - Iraq is moving ahead with plans to hold its first complete census since 1987 on Oct. 24, regardless of whether a new government is formed by then, the head of the survey said on Wednesday.

By (Reuters)

Published: Wed 25 Aug 2010, 9:16 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 5:51 AM

The census could prove controversial in a country torn for years by sectarian warfare and still riven by discord between majority Shi’ites, once dominant Sunnis and minority Kurds. U.S. officials have warned against rushing into it.

But Mehdi al-Alak, head of the Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT), said there was no plan to postpone it a second time despite the failure of politicians since a March election to form a new government.

The political impasse since the March 7 vote has raised fears of a return to broader violence as U.S troops end combat operations on Aug. 31, and of a paralysis of the public sector.

“The government formation has nothing whatsoever to do with the implementation of the census...There is no conflict between it and the delay in forming the government,” Alak told Reuters in an interview.

The census was postponed for a year over worries it was being politicized. Ethnic groups in contested areas like the northern city of Kirkuk, home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and a valuable part of Iraq’s oil fields, opposed it because it might reveal demographics that would undermine political ambitions.

The count could provide answers or create more squabbles in a nation riven by violence following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and now trying to bolster fragile security while deciding how to share out its oil wealth. Iraq has the world’s 3rd largest crude oil reserves.

It will deliberately not ask Iraqi Muslims to say whether they are Shi’ite or Sunni.

But it could inflame Kurd-Arab tensions.

The autonomous Kurdish region in the north claims Kirkuk as its own. The census will determine whether Kurds are the biggest ethnic bloc in the city, which could bolster that claim.

The census will be the first to include the Kurdish region since 1987. If it finds Kurds are a greater percentage of the total population than previously believed, the constitution says the region must get a larger slice of the federal budget than its current 17 percent, and retroactive payments.

“Our preparations are in the final stages, we are heading toward implementing the census. There is no decision to postpone it and we hope no decision is made to postpone it,” Alak said.

The determination to proceed with the census at a sensitive time as U.S. combat operations end on Aug. 31, U.S. troop numbers fall below 50,000 and Iraqi leaders continue to squabble over their share of power, worries some U.S. officials.

“I think we have to watch it very carefully,” General Raymond Odierno, the outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said on Tuesday.

“I worry if we stuck to the census, what are the implications? Could it raise tensions without having a government in place to deal with it?” Odierno told reporters.

Alak said his agency had done a rough count of houses and families, and the result came close to previous estimates that Iraq’s population now numbers 32 million.

The census will seek answers to many questions, such as how many widows, orphans and disabled people there are in Iraq after decades of war.

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