Election will be held on time, says Allawi

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The Independent Online

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim Prime Minister, will go ahead with elections on 30 January despite calls from Sunni politicians to postpone them for six months and the dire lack of security throughout the country.

Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim Prime Minister, will go ahead with elections on 30 January despite calls from Sunni politicians to postpone them for six months and the dire lack of security throughout the country.

"The Iraqi government is determined to hold elections on time," Thair al-Naqeeb, Mr Allawi's spokesman, said yesterday. He added that the government "is calling for all ... of the Iraqi people to participate ... and to contribute to building a strong democratic government".

A few hours earlier leaders of 17 political parties, mostly from the Sunni Muslim community, had gathered in the palatial mansion which is home to Adnan Pachachi, a highly regarded and influential former Iraqi foreign minister. Almost all declared that it was too dangerous for Iraqis to vote and urged a delay.

As if to emphasised the lack of security, a gun battle erupted a few streets from Mr Pachachi's house in the Mansur district. The shooting also underlined that the US army's capture of Fallujah, in a battle in which 2,000 civilians and more than 50 marines died, has not made Iraq safer.

Mr Allawi might privately like to prolong his tenure as interim Prime Minister but it is difficult for him to postpone elections that President George Bush has promised will be held on 30 January. The election was presented by the White House during the US presidential campaign as a symbol of the success of American policy in Iraq.

Speakers at the crisis meeting at Mr Pachachi's house on Friday night noted that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shia leader, was determined to have an election, but others said the ayatollah might be flexible about the date. Shias make up 60 per cent of all Iraqis.

The Sunni political leaders are in an impossible position. Much of their community supports the uprising. Politicians suspected of supporting the US or the interim government are in danger of assassination. In Sunni districts, shopkeepers are terrified of distributing registration forms along with rations as they have been instructed. The justification for delaying the election is that the security situation might be better next summer. But Iyad Jamal-al-din, a religious dignitary, claimed this was unrealistic.

"The US will stay, the government will continue and those who fight them will still be fighting them in six months' time." He asked for the election to be put off for two years.

The only practical suggestion on how security might be improved came from Ayham al-Sammarai, the Minister of Electricity. "We need to reach an agreement with the Baathists," he said, emphasising that he did not mean Saddam Hussein's inner circle. He said the Baath party members who lost their jobs and saw the army dissolved after the invasion were the driving force in the uprising. If they could be conciliated then "a few thousand religious fanatics can be easily dealt with".

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