U.N. and Iraqi officials on Sunday unveiled anti-fraud measures for Iraq's first nationwide vote in more than three years, including plans to assign teachers to staff voting stations because they are less likely to show political bias.
A senior U.N. envoy also warned that militants would likely target the Jan. 31 provincial elections.
"We are expecting spectacular attempts to try to disrupt the stability of Iraq and of the elections," Staffan de Mistura said, adding unprecedented measures were being undertaken by Iraq's security apparatus to protect the vote.
"But the stability of Iraq is in the right direction and the security has improved," he said at a joint news conference with Iraqi election officials.
Elections key step in reconciliation
His comments came a day after a rocket slammed to the ground near the U.N. compound in the U.S.-protected Green Zone, killing two foreign contractors providing catering services for the world body and wounding 13 others.
De Mistura said the victims were from Bangladesh but it was not known whether the U.N. was the actual target of the rocket strike.
"It was a very sad attack, a very outrageous attack," he said, but pledged "our mission continues."
The elections in 14 provinces are seen as a key step toward U.S.-backed efforts to promote national reconciliation even though a key northern area that includes the disputed city of Kirkuk will not participate in the vote. The three provinces that comprise the semiautonomous Kurdish region also won't be included.
It will be the first nationwide vote since Iraqis chose members of Iraq's parliament in December 2005. The last provincial vote was earlier that year in January.
While the security situation has improved, Iraqi politics are still vulnerable to sectarian divisions among the country's major factions — Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds — and military commanders have warned of a likely rise in bombings and assassination attempts.
Trained observers will monitor voting
Addressing fears of fraud, de Mistura said teachers would be used to staff polling stations across the country because they are less likely to be politically motivated.
Printed voter lists also will be made available at the stations to avoid multiple voting, and technological innovations will help ensure the ballots can't be copied or tampered with, said de Mistura.
He also said the U.N. hoped to have 200,000 observers trained to monitor the voting.
Faraj al-Haidari, the chairman of the Independent High Electoral Commission, said an estimated 13 million people were registered to vote and 19,000 candidates were competing to fill 444 seats nationwide.