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Afghan Parliamentary Election Faces Delay

While Iraq's interim government is holding to its January 30 election date, Afghanistan's leadership is being flexible about the timetable for that country's parliamentary elections. The already delayed vote may again be pushed back.

Afghanistan's first post-war parliamentary elections originally were to be held alongside the presidential vote last October.

After financial and security issues prompted a delay, officials said they hoped the polls could be held by March. But a variety of problems have again moved the deadline to May 20.

Among the issues delaying the election is the presence of powerful local militia commanders, whom some describe as warlords. They rule over many of Afghanistan's rural districts and provinces.

Some foreign and Afghan officials fear the militia commanders, if left in power, could try to influence the election and efforts are continuing to disarm them before the vote takes place.

Preparations for the elections also await the formation of an independent election commission.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday that his administration is working on the matter and hopes to have a commission in place in the coming days.

An interim election body ran the October presidential election, which Mr. Karzai won by a large margin. That group came under criticism from the president's opponents, who said it was too pro-Karzai.

Afghan authorities also need to draw up boundaries for the parliamentary constituencies. By law, the districts must be announced at least 120 days before the election.

U.N. spokeswoman Ariane Quentier said meeting the May 20 deadline will be difficult but not impossible.

"There is a matter of emergency, but we are still within the timeframe," she said.

But some diplomats and aid agency staff say privately that the election will likely be postponed again until June or July.

Money for the elections also is an issue, as impoverished Afghanistan will need foreign help to meet the costs of the vote. U.N. officials estimate that between $120 million and $130 million will be needed.

Ms. Quentier says an international appeal for the funds will be made after an election date is set and a final budget drawn up.

"Only once we have all that finished, we can launch an appeal to the international community," she said. "Hopefully it is a matter of weeks."

She adds that the United Nations can help meet the preliminary costs with money left over from the presidential election.