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Debate Over Iraqi Election Date Continues


Iraq's interim government says it is determined to hold elections as scheduled at the end of January, despite demands from several political groups for a delay because of continuing violence in the country. At least five people were reported killed Saturday.

A spokesman for interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Saturday the government is not in favor of postponing the election, scheduled for January 30, and called on all segments of Iraqi society to participate.

The widespread violence in Iraq prompted at least 15 political parties to petition the interim government Friday to postpone the elections by up to six months.

Several key Iraqi political figures, who asked not to be identified, said there is no guarantee the security situation in the country will dramatically improve in the coming months, and that to delay the elections would only embolden the insurgency.

The push to postpone the elections has come mostly from Iraq's minority Sunni Muslim population. Sunni clerics have threatened to call for a boycott of the elections, if they are held in January. The clerics fear violence in cities like Fallujah, Tikrit, Baquba and areas of Baghdad, will prevent many Sunnis from voting.

Baghdad lawyer and political activist Jaleed Ibrahim, a Sunni, says postponing the elections would give all of the political parties a better chance to compete.

Mr. Ibrahim says more time would allow the political parties, whether they be minority Sunni parties or the Shiite party of Iyad Allawi, to better organize, and allow voters to become better informed about the differences among the parties.

The majority Shiite population has mostly supported holding the elections in January, not wanting to lose power it has gained since the fall of Saddam Hussein, who is a Sunni Muslim.

Iraqi physician Hassan Ali, a Shiite Muslim, says the elections need to be held as scheduled.

Dr. Ali says holding the elections on time would help speed the departure of U.S. and British troops from Iraq. In turn, he believes, insurgents would be less motivated to carry out attacks in Iraq.

Iraq's interim constitution specifies that the national elections, to seat a 275-member assembly, must be held by the end of January.

Violence continued Saturday. Insurgents stormed and briefly took control of a government building in the town of Al Khalis, about 70 kilometers north of Baghdad. After a two-hour gun battle, U.S. and Iraqi forces regained control of the building. Several insurgents were reported to have been killed. An Iraqi policeman was wounded.

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