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US, Iraqi Officials say No Postponement of January Elections

  • Meredith Buel

Top U.S. and Iraqi officials say elections planned for late January should not be postponed, as called for by some Iraqi political groups concerned that continuing violence could disrupt voting. Controversy over the election in Iraq is divided largely along sectarian and ethnic lines.

Iraq's interim constitution calls for elections to be held early next year to elect a transitional assembly, which will pick a new Cabinet, and oversee the drafting of a new constitution.

Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, says the interim government is committed to holding the elections January 30. He says there are strong political reasons for not delaying the elections.

"Iraq's people and their nascent political institutions, including the interim government, are engaged in mortal combat, literally for their lives, against an enemy determined to prevent any hint of progress and stability in Iraq," he said. "They are quite prepared to use the most barbaric, terrorist tactics, including the wholesale massacre of Iraqi civilian children, women and men to achieve their nihilistic goals."

The U.S.-led military coalition has been launching attacks against insurgents, and says it will continue to do so through the end of the year in an effort to increase security before the elections.

On Wednesday, the Defense Department announced it would increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 150,000, the highest level since the start of the war in March 2003.

The coordinator for Iraq in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs is Ronald Schlicher, who says conducting the Iraqi elections on time is vitally important.

"The people who would seek to derail the elections by violence, who, of course, are a very different cast of characters than the folks who have called for a delay in the electoral process, we think it is very important that they not be given any moral victory," he said. "It is especially important they be deprived of such a moral victory, in the wake of our military victories by Iraqi forces and the coalitions' in Fallujah and Mosel."

The debate over the elections is dividing Iraqis largely along ethnic and religious lines.

Shi'ite Muslims make up about 60 percent of the population, but were oppressed during the rule of Saddam Hussein. Shi'ite leaders are insisting the elections take place on time, confident their majority will bring them new political power.

Only about 20 percent of Iraqis are Sunni Arabs, but they dominated the country under the previous government.

Some leading Sunni Arabs have called for the elections to be postponed, fearing they will be marginalized, and saying violence in Sunni areas will prevent the elections from being free and fair.

Phebe Marr is a specialist on Iraq, who is currently with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Ms. Marr says her research shows that most Iraqis are planning to vote based on the family, tribal and religious backgrounds of the candidates.

"Much of this election may hinge on what I am going to call identity politics," she explained. "Many of the active participants and voters are going to be voting, it seems to me, in talking to them, on the basis of ethnic and sectarian affiliation, rather than on the basis of issues, or even interests. Parties representing platforms do not seem to be the norm, but rather this identity issue, identity politics, seems to be increasing."

So far, in Iraq over 200 political entities have applied for certification, and more than 4,000 people have presented themselves to be candidates in the January elections.

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