Politicians in Iraq call for delay to elections

Leading Iraqi political parties have called for forthcoming elections to be delayed because of mounting violence in the country.

Fifteen political parties ­ including two Kurdish groups closely allied to the US ­ signed a petition calling for the first election since the end of Saddam Hussein's rule to be postponed for six months.

The move came after representatives from some of Iraq's main political groups gathered at the Baghdad home of Adnan Pachachi, an influential, moderate Sunni leader and former presidential candidate. The petition stated that the delegates wanted the elections, currently scheduled to be held by the end of January, put off to allow for "changes in the security situation".

A delegate from the Iraqi National Accord, headed by the interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, was at the meeting but did not sign the petition.

Divisions between Sunnis and Shia Muslims, who are eager for an early election, were highlighted by the absence of any representatives from Iraq's two main Shia parties, Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

There is increasing violence, particularly in Sunni Muslim areas to the north and west of Baghdad, and influential Sunni groups have called for the poll to be postponed.

Holding elections as scheduled in January will be "a tough challenge", Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged yesterday. Barham Salih, who is on a visit to Britain, said violence was threatening the election timetable.

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