Poll will be illegitimate, Iraqi elder statesman warns

An Iraqi elder statesman urged the country's interim government to postpone the general election yesterday, warning that the seemingly unstoppable wave of killings would only worsen if the poll takes place as planned in three weeks' time.

Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, said that the polls are bound to be condemned as illegitimate because, thanks to the violence and a Sunni boycott, many voters will be unable to take part.

"If they are going to be held on 30 January without the participation of large segments of the Iraqi population and important areas of Iraq, the elections would be seen as non-inclusive and illegitimate," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday. Mr Pachachi, who was foreign minister before Iraq's 1968 Baathist coup, was once seen as a possible president of post-Saddam Iraq and now heads the Iraqi Independent Democrats party.

President George Bush has acknowledged that four out of 18 Iraqi provinces are still not safe enough for voting to take place. Also, the major Sunni factions are refusing to take part, a potentially fatal challenge to the legitimacy of the poll. Even so, the American-led coalition is determined to press ahead.

This week the Pentagon is sending a retired senior general to Iraq ­ apparently in response to the continuing insurgent campaign aimed at derailing the election. General Gary Luck, a former commander of US forces in Korea, is due to travel this week on the orders of Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary.

According to a spokesman, the posting is to assess progress in training Iraqis to take over security, key to ensuring that US forces are eventually free to leave Iraq. He will also take an overview of American operations against the insurgents.

US military commanders acknowledge that the performance of the Iraqis is mixed, and far from being able to cut US troop numbers as it had hoped, the Pentagon now has more personnel in Iraq than ever ­ more than 150,000.

A senior US army official has said the army is likely to ask for a permanent increase of 30,000 in its strength.

There is mounting speculation that extra British troops will be sent to Iraq to bolster election security, with an announcement expected in the next few days. Battalions of the Royal Scots and the Royal Highland Fusiliers are waiting in reserve, with the former, currently in Cyprus, said to be favourites for deployment. The extra battalion of 650 soldiers would take the total of British troops in Iraq to more than 9,000.

In one of the few shows of electoral normality, Iraq's Communist Party held a campaign rally in central Baghdad last week, despite the recent assassination of two senior members. The party's main tenet is the separation of state and religion, making it unique in the country's political landscape. Established in 1934, it was banned under the British-installed monarchy of the time. Thousands of party members were massacred when the Baath Party came to power.

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