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Iraqis may have staggered elections
9/12/2004 15:00

Iraq may modify its election plan by extending its voting over two or three weeks to give people more time to vote next month, officials said on Wednesday as suicide bombers and gunmen again struck Sunni Muslim towns north and west of the capital.
The suggestion was made by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who told a Swiss newspaper this week in response to remarks by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that violence made the January vote very difficult.
"One can imagine elections spread out over 15 or 20 days, with the dates differing according to the provinces," Allawi was quoted as saying.
Allawi's proposal also stems from the fact that there are not enough Iraqi security forces to provide protection on the same day to some 9,000 polling stations.
Iraq's Interior Ministry, which with its US military allies faces a massive task to provide security at thousands of polling stations on Jan. 30, endorsed Allawi's idea on Wednesday, saying voting over several days could reduce lines in the streets.
"If people have more than one day to vote, then there will be shorter lines and thus there will be less danger and less victims if something bad happen, although we have taken the necessary measures to secure the voting process," said Sabah Khazim, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
"It is an excellent idea and it will make it more easier for the Interior Ministry regarding securing the elections," he said.
But Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, which has final say over the scheduled Jan. 30 vote, said it was still trying to confirm Allawi's comment and insisted there had been no official change in the way voting will be held.
The handling of the vote has become the central issue in Iraq recently, with insurgents threatening to attack polling stations.
An insurgency among the 20-percent Sunni Arab minority which dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein has raised the threat of violence against voters. Some leading Sunnis have urged a delay in the election and others have called for a boycott.
The 60-percent Shiite Muslim majority, which accounts for the bulk of the population in British-controlled southern Iraq, is keen to vote to consolidate its new strength. Iraqi authorities and Washington are also determined the polls take place on time.
Iraqis are to elect 275 members of a national assembly as well as local councils. Iraqi Kurds will also pick the 111 members of their autonomous parliament.
More than 200 parties, groups or individuals have been approved to run.
Unlike the widespread international support for the election to choose a successor to the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, the Iraqi elections have been controversial.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday questioned the feasibility of holding elections there under what he called foreign occupation.
The US military has said it will keep its distance from voting places.
A month ago, the US launched massive assaults on the Sunni city of Falluja to break the rebels before the election. While it reportedly killed up to 1,600 of them and deprived them of a major base, attacks continue on a daily basis.
Nearby Ramadi, 110 km west of Baghdad, was again in turmoil on Wednesday, with masked gunmen roaming streets and battling US troops, and two Iraqis were killed in shooting after a suicide bomber had attacked a US military checkpoint, witnesses and a hospital official said.
Another three Iraqis were killed on Wednesday when a suicide car bomber attacked a US convoy in the northern city of Samarra, a local police official said.
In a separate incident there, an Iraqi policeman was killed when insurgents opened fire on US soldiers in the town that the Iraqi interim government said it had seized from guerrillas after a major offensive in early October.