Tue, Nov 16, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Elections could be delayed, official says

THE GUARDIAN , SULAYMANIYA AND BAGHDAD

Iraq's deputy prime minister has indicated for the first time that the parliamentary elections scheduled for January could be derailed by the violent insurgency.

Barham Salih, in an interview, said the authorities were determined to hold the vote, but admitted they would have to assess the security situation nearer the time.

"Holding free and fair elections on time is an obligation that we have undertaken towards the Iraqi people," Salih said.

But he added: "Nearer the time, the Iraqi government, the United Nations, the independent election commission and the national assembly will have to engage in a real and hard-headed dialogue to assess the situation."

It is the first time a senior government figure has acknowledged that the dire security situation in large parts of the country could affect the political process.

Although the elections may be weeks away, Salih said he hoped that by then the violent rebellion that has gripped Iraq since the US invasion will have diminished.

"My hope is we will have stabilized many of the areas that have become pockets of foreign fighters and insurgents, because it is vital that every Iraqi citizen is able to exercise the basic right to choose a government that has been denied to them for so long," he said.

There is a growing concern that the minority Sunni community, from which the most extreme elements of the insurgency have emerged, will not take part in the elections.

The influential Muslim Clerics Association has ordered a boycott of the vote while the Iraqi Islamic party, a mainstream Sunni political group, has already pulled out of the government.

There is also the logistical problem of securing the estimated 7,000 to 9,000 polling centers across Iraq.

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