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Powell Says Next Iraqi Government Should Assure Sunni Representation

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the transitional Iraqi government to be set up after next month's elections will have to "find a way" to assure that Sunni Muslims are fairly represented. U.S. officials are concerned that the insurgency and a poor turnout by Sunnis could largely exclude them from a new national assembly.

Mr. Powell says there is no provision in Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law for handing Sunnis seats in the new national assembly that they don't win in the January 30 election.

But he is making clear the Bush administration's view that Sunnis should have an adequate role in the new government that will be chosen by the assembly.

Mr. Powell's remarks were the first by a senior Bush administration official since a weekend report by the New York Times about mounting concern by U.S. officials that Sunnis, some of whom may boycott the election, might be all but shut out of the new national assembly.

The Times report said U.S. officials were talking with authorities in Baghdad about possibly adding Sunni seats to what is to be a 275-member assembly, or allocating them positions in the new government to be chosen by it.

At a news conference here, Mr. Powell said the law provides only for the direct election of legislators, but that the government they choose should reflect the religious and ethnic makeup of the country:

"I think that for the government to be representative, and for the government to be effective, the transitional national assembly would certainly have to take into account the ethnic mix of the country, and find a way to make sure that all segments of the country believe that they are playing a proper role in the government. That's the way the Iraqi Interim Government was formed and the current ministries operate, and it would seem to me to be sensible for the transitional government to do the same thing," Mr. Powell says.

Iraq's Shiites, who make up about 60 per cent of the population and were largely denied power under Saddam Hussein, are energetically campaigning in the elections.

Some Sunni politicians, however, say they will boycott the vote, and there are major questions about voter turnout in largely-Sunni towns in the central part of the country that are centers for the insurgency.

Mr. Powell said having the election as scheduled January 30, with maximum participation, is essential. He said the United States is encouraging Sunnis to join in the effort, and to, in his words, "say no to terrorism, no to murder, and yes to democracy."

He said as part of that effort, the United States is talking to other Arab governments, urging them to encourage Iraqi Sunni leaders to turn out the vote.

On another issue, Mr. Powell denied a report by the Washington Post that he had advocated sending more U.S. troops to Iraq during a meeting last month with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Powell, who is to step down as Secretary of State next month, acknowledged having a conversation on force levels with the President and Prime Minister in the White House Oval Office.

But he said he actually cited the need to increase the number of Iraqi government troops as the administration has been seeking to do, rather than boosting the size of the U.S.-led coalition.