Mon, Nov 29, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iraq poll to go ahead as planned

ON SCHEDULE Amid more violence -- 17 bodies were found in Mosul yesterday -- the election commission's head said delaying the vote was out of the question

AFP , BAGHDAD

An Iraqi police officer stands guard next to the body of his colleague, Naji Dawood Khalaf al-Ubaidi, who was killed by gunmen on his way to work in Baghdad yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Iraq's landmark January polls looked set to take place as planned, although ongoing violence yesterday did nothing to alleviate the security concerns of the proponents of a delay.

Yet another car bomb exploded on Baghdad's perilous airport road, while US patrols in Mosul yielded their grim daily crop of bodies as insurgents continue to intimidate the population in the northern city ahead of the elections.

"There were 17 bodies discovered on Saturday -- in addition to the 15 discovered the day prior," Lieutenant Colonel Paul Hastings said.

This brought to at least 57 the number of bodies, mostly belonging to members of Iraq's security forces, found in the city since Nov. 19.

Iraqi and US forces, which have been involved a vast operation to root out the insurgency in Mosul for more than a week, arrested 43 suspects on Saturday alone, a US military statement said.

The headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party in western Mosul were attacked by gunmen in a car, a security official said. Guards fired back, wounding one of the attackers.

A car bomb exploded on the road leading to the airport road in Baghdad, wounding two soldiers and damaging a military vehicle, the US military said in a statement.

Meanwhile US-led troops continued to sweep insurgent strongholds across the country, arresting more than 100 suspects since the start of the five-day-old crackdown in the lawless badlands south of Baghdad.

US forces, backed by British and Iraqi troops, regained control of the town of Latifiyah, which had been a no-go zone for months and earned the nickname of "Fallujah's second name."

US marines were still clearing Fallujah, three weeks after they launched the largest post-war military operation in Iraq, in a bid to reclaim insurgent-held areas ahead of the elections.

Several leading parties on Friday agreed on a statement demanding the elections -- the country's first free and multi-party vote in half a century -- be postponed by six months because the security conditions were not met.

But most of the relevant authorities rejected the idea and said everything would be done to hold the elections on Jan. 30, as scheduled.

"Postponing the elections is out of the question," electoral commission chairman Abdel Hussein al-Hindawi said Saturday after examining a request submitted a day earlier by 17 organizations, including 10 major parties.

"As far as we are concerned, the elections will be held at the date scheduled by the fundamental law," the commission chairman said Saturday. "In theory, the elections cannot be postponed, bar a political disaster."

Senior secular Sunni statesman Adnan Pachachi, who led the drive to delay the polls, stressed that the movements demanding a postponement would not necessarily boycott the vote if their request was rejected.

He also vowed that further delay requests would not be put forward, but did not specify which parties had decided to take part in the ballot and which ones were pulling out.

A government spokesman said later that the interim administration -- which has been accused to seeking to cling to power -- remained determined to hold the polls on time.

The country's majority Shiite community also came out strongly against delaying the vote, which they are expected to dominate -- putting an end to decades of a Sunni dominance which culminated under deposed leader Saddam Hussein.

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