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Iraq: Prime Minister Says Some Areas Will Not Vote In Election

Prime Minister Allawi (file photo) Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has acknowledged that areas of Iraq will be too unsafe to take part in the 30 January election. The assessment raises again the question of how free and fair Iraq's vote for a new National Assembly can be given the continuing violence.

Prague, 12 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said there are "some pockets that will not participate in the election" due to security problems.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad yesterday, Allawi did not specify the places that might not take part in the poll. But last week, the U.S. commander of ground forces in Iraq said parts of four provinces -- mostly populated by Sunni Arabs -- were not yet safe enough for voting.

Still, U.S. and Iraqi officials say they are determined to hold the election on schedule. U.S. President George W. Bush is reported to have spoken by phone with Allawi three times within the past week to be sure the timetable holds.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington yesterday that the election is essential to bring a more popularly supported government to Iraq. "This has been the coalition's goal: an Iraq run by Iraqis and secured by Iraqi security forces," he said. "The Iraqi people and their interim government are making progress in that direction, although there is still a distance to go."

U.S. officials say a broadly backed government will be better able to rally public opinion against insurgents so that security forces can crush them.

The latest assessments that some areas of Iraq remain too restive to take part in the poll come amid sharp debate in Iraq and the United States over whether the polls should be postponed. The U.S. daily "The New York Times" called today for a delay, arguing that an election under current conditions will deprive Sunni Arabs of full representation in the National Assembly. The paper said a postponement of "two or three months would not solve all safety problems" but would be "a sign to the Sunni Arabs that their concerns were being taken into consideration."

The mainstream Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, withdrew from the assembly race last month, saying security concerns will prevent its supporters from getting to the polling stations. Some Sunni community leaders have also called for a boycott of the vote, claiming it will hand power to Iraq's Shi'a majority.

Virginia Beramendi-Heine is an election expert with the Sweden-based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an organization made up of member states from all continents. She said the international community may conditionally accept an election as successful despite shortcomings. But those shortcomings must be limited to technical problems.

"In terms of freedom, we should assure the citizen's ability to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation and secure in the knowledge that his or her rights of freedom of expression, of association, of assembly will be upheld throughout the entire election process," Beramendi-Heine said.
U.S. officials say a broadly backed government will be better able to rally public opinion against insurgents so that security forces can crush them.

Washington appears to accept that the Iraq poll may fall short of some election standards. U.S. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that no one expects the elections to be perfect.

But Pentagon chief Rumsfeld said that "just having elections in Iraq is an enormous success and a victory." Rumsfeld spoke at a joint news conference with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. "People from all of the various, diverse groups are represented on the 200-plus lists that exist, so whatever government evolves will be a broadly representative government," Rumsfeld said. "All the polls indicate that the people across the country, including the Sunnis, want to vote and intend to vote."

Rumsfeld appeared to get some support from his Russian counterpart. Ivanov said the most important thing is that "the largest number of people take part" in the poll. "[In my view], the main criteria is that the largest number of people take part [in Iraqi elections]," Ivanov said. "That's the first thing. We, of course, are fully aware that terrorists will do their utmost both to reduce the turnout and organize all kinds of terrorist acts on the eve of the election and even on the day of the election."

In a sign of the insurgents' continuing pressure, the 13-member team organizing elections in the restive central province of Anbar resigned yesterday after receiving death threats.

Insurgents in recent weeks have killed scores of local officials and political figures in an effort to derail the upcoming poll.

The National Assembly elected on 30 January is expected to choose Iraq's next interim government. The assembly is also expected to appoint a body to write Iraq's first post-Saddam Hussein constitution.

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]

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