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Debate Continues on Date for Iraqi Elections


Some U.S. lawmakers say they oppose any move to postpone elections in Iraq, currently scheduled for January 30, fearing that could embolden insurgents. This week, several political groups in Iraq called for a delay of up to six months because of continuing violence in parts of the country. The Iraqi government says it is determined to hold elections on schedule. One of the proponents of a delay outlined his concerns on U.S. television Sunday.

Influential Sunni Muslim elder statesman Adnan Pachachi told CNN's Late Edition program, it would be a mistake to hold elections, if large segments of Iraq's minority-Sunni population are unwilling to participate.

"We should give an opportunity for those who are reluctant or unwilling to take part in the elections to have a dialogue with them, and to see whether we can address some of their demands and grievances," he urged. "And also to try to persuade them that it would be in their interests to join in the elections."

Mr. Pachachi, who spoke from the United Arab Emirates, says forcing elections to take place on an artificial timetable will not make for a more stable Iraq.

"I do not think that would be conducive to bringing peace and order to the country, and it could easily exacerbate the security situation," added Mr. Pachachi.

Officials with Iraq's current interim government say elections will go forward on January 30 as scheduled, In Washington, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, said postponing the elections would only embolden those who oppose democratic rule in Iraq.

"If you have one delay, you are going to have another delay. And if you have a delay, I think the insurgency will increase [in Iraq]. I do not think it will decrease," he commented.

Those words were echoed by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, who said that Sunnis who oppose the elections are worried about losing the privileges they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein. Mr. Lugar spoke on Fox News Sunday.

"The Sunni demands are part of a strategy of trying to hang on [to power]. They are not convinced that there is going to be democracy in Iraq. Some of them believe that, eventually, we [the United States] will tire of the whole process [involvement in Iraq], the coalition of the willing will leave, and they [Sunnis] will take charge," he said.

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer also advocated sticking to the January 30 election date. A fierce critic of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, Ms. Boxer said it is time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their country's future.

"If the Iraqi people do not show that they want freedom and democracy, [then] this is a losing effort. Period. The people themselves have to want this," emphasized Ms. Boxer.

The senator said only an appeal by both Sunni and majority-Shiite Muslim leaders would convince her to postpone the election. But that is far from likely. Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has said that it is the duty of all Iraqis to go to the polls January 30.

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