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Kidnappings Won't Change Policy, Iraqi Politicians Tell RFE/RL

(Prague, Czech Republic--November 11, 2004) A group of Iraqi political leaders says the kidnapping of relatives of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will have no impact on the policies of his government. "We are used to the violence, we expect it, these kidnappings happen all the time," said Salama Abdullah al-Khafaji, member of the Iraqi National Council. She added "this will not change Mr. Allawi, he is strong."

Khafaji spoke at a press conference Wednesday in Prague at RFE/RL's broadcast operations center. She was part of a group of 11 Iraqi politicians, representing major political parties expected to participate in the upcoming elections in Iraq, who were visiting RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq service to give interviews and discuss RFE/RL broadcasting to Iraq.

Khafaji was commenting on the November 9 abduction of Allawi's cousin, Ghazi Allawi, wife and daughter-in-law in Baghdad. The kidnappers have threatened to kill all three unless Prime Minister Allawi orders an end to the Fallujah offensive within 48 hours. "He will not do so [comply with the kidnappers' demand]," said Khafaji.

All of Khafaji's colleagues at the press conference expressed similar views on the kidnappings and hostage-taking. They did, however, hold differing views about participation in the forthcoming elections, scheduled for January 2005.

Baha Aldin Abdul Qadir of the Iraqi Islamic Party (Sunni) asserted that, in reference to the fighting in Fallujah, "killing civilians is not acceptable" and that he expected leading Sunni Muslim clerics in Iraq to instruct followers to boycott the January elections. "They will tell voters to ignore the elections," Qadir said.

Another Sunni member of the group, however, pointed out that, unlike Shi'ites, Sunni Muslims are not obliged to obey a clerical edict and can follow their own conscience. Muna Ali, a member of the central leadership of Prime Minister Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, said many Sunnis feel strongly about voting for a new government to run their own country and will go to the polls in January.

During the wide-ranging discussion, the Iraqi politicians also spoke about preparations for the presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections due in January. According to the politicians, who are in the Czech Republic as part of a program organized by Center for Democracy and Culture Studies in Brno, anyone can be a candidate in the elections so long as they gather the signatures of a minimum of 500 eligible voters. The Iraqi diaspora--estimated at more than three million people--may also take part, both as candidates and voters. Voting centers for the diaspora are to be set up at Iraqi embassies in countries with sizeable Iraqi minorities, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

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