Tue, Dec 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Election lead-up marred by violence

TOUGH GAME As the Iraqi election commission scrambles to meet the upcoming January deadline for elections in Iraq, leaders are being targeted for terrorist attacks

AP , Baghdad, Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated his car Monday at the gate to the home of the leader of Iraq's biggest political party, killing and wounding several of the guards but leaving the cleric unharmed, his spokesman said.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- the country's most powerful Shiite political group -- was in his residence in Baghdad's Jadiriyah district when the attack occurred, said Haitham al-Husseini. He was unharmed.

The blast shook the district and sent a cloud of smoke high above the area.

"It was a suicide attack near the gate leading to the office," al-Husseini said. "Several of the guards were killed and wounded."

Political and religious leaders of the Shiite community, who strongly back the holding of next month's vote, have been repeatedly targeted by the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents since Saddam's ouster.

Iraq's election body rejected a suggestion in Washington it adjust the results of next month's vote to benefit the Sunni minority if low turnout in Sunni areas means Shiites win an exaggerated majority in the new assembly.

Speaking of "unacceptable" interference, Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said: "Who wins, wins. That is the way it is. That is the way it will be in the election."

US diplomats in Baghdad, at pains to keep their role in the election discreet, declined comment on a New York Times report from Washington which said Sunnis might be granted extra seats if the community's vote was judged to have been too low.

US officials have expressed concern that if the ballot on Jan. 30 fails to reflect Iraq's sectarian and ethnic mix due to violence and boycotts in Sunni areas, then the assembly will lack legitimacy.

But any attempt to fix the proportion of seats going to the main groups in advance could have the same effect.

"The Americans are expressing their views and those aren't always the same as the Commission's," Ayar told reporters.

"But the Commission is absolutely independent. It is not acceptable for anyone to interfere in our business."

call for postponement

Some leaders among Sunni Arabs, a 20-percent minority who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein and before, have called for the election to be put off because violence in the north and west will make it hard for Sunnis to vote.

But Shiites, who account for 60 percent of the 26 million population, are keen to exercise their electoral weight.

The New York Times said Shiite leaders had been approached about the idea. Shiites would be reluctant to see the minority shut out of power if that means more violence, like the twin suicide car bombs that rocked their holy cities a week ago.

Next month's vote will elect 275 legislators who will appoint a president and government and oversee the drafting of a new constitution over the next year.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy insisted it was up to the Iraqis, not Washington, to decide the rules of the election.

"The US supports the Iraqi election commission in defining those rules. But it's up to the Iraqi election commission to determine the rules," Duffy said.

POLICE CHIEF TARGETED

In scattered violence in the north and west, a police colonel was assassinated in Baghdad, the latest of many.

Local witnesses said a civilian was killed in two hours of fighting near Samarra between US forces and insurgents.

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