- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Leading Iraqi political parties, including the two main Kurdish groups closely allied to the United States, yesterday called for elections scheduled for Jan. 30 to be postponed because of widening violence.

Asked about their petition, President Bush, at his vacation home in Texas, said, “The Iraqi Election Commission has scheduled elections in January, and I would hope they’d go forward in January.”

The call for postponing elections for up to six months came as U.S. forces uncovered more bodies in the northern city of Mosul, apparent victims of an intimidation campaign by insurgents against Iraq’s fledgling security forces.

Authorities also confirmed four Nepalese guards were killed and 12 others wounded in a rocket attack Thursday on their camp in Baghdad’s green zone. In Fallujah, insurgents ambushed U.S. troops as they entered a home during house-to-house searches in the former terrorist bastion, killing two Marines and wounding three others, the U.S. military said.

After a meeting at the Baghdad home of Adnan Pachachi, an influential, moderate Sunni leader and former presidential candidate, 17 political parties and groups signed the petition calling for the elections to be put off for up to six months.

“The participants call for elections to be delayed and to be held within six months, allowing for changes in the security situation and completion of necessary arrangements in terms of organization and administration,” the petition says.

Three interim government ministers attended the meeting, and representatives from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party signed the document.

A delegate from the Iraqi National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, attended but did not sign.

Significantly, no representatives of the country’s two main Shi’ite parties, Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, were present. Their absence highlighted division in the Muslim country on religious lines between the majority Shi’ites and the minority Sunnis.

Mr. Pachachi, a former foreign minister, said he believed the government was waiting for such a request before seriously considering whether the election can be held as scheduled.

Mohsen Abdul Hamid, a Sunni Arab and leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, fears the government will be misunderstood if it requests a delay.

“The government can’t talk about that,” Mr. Abdul Hamid said.

He added that Mr. Allawi wants the parties “to agree among themselves and to talk to the United Nations so nobody would think that the government wants to remain in power for a longer period of time.”

However, the clerical leadership of the Shi’ite majority has insisted that the government keep the Jan. 30 date. The country’s leading Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, brought hundreds of thousands of followers into the streets last January to demand changes in the U.S. formula for transferring power to the Iraqis.

Any attempt to delay the election without Ayatollah al-Sistani’s approval could trigger a massive backlash within a religious community whose support the United States has sought since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003.

The rift between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shi’ites widened with this month’s U.S.-led assault on Fallujah. Many of the Iraqi troops who took part in the offensive were Shi’ites, and the Shi’ite hierarchy generally avoided criticism of the attack on the Sunni insurgent bastion.

The Fallujah campaign has driven insurgents to several towns south of Baghdad and Mosul in the north, which have witnessed several attacks in recent days.

In Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, U.S. officials said six bodies were found yesterday, bringing the number discovered there over the past two days to 21. In all, 41 bodies have been discovered in the past week.

Eleven of the 41 have been identified as members of the Iraqi security services, apparent targets of insurgents who rose up across the city this month in support of terrorists fighting in Fallujah.

Mosul’s entire 5,000-member police force disintegrated during the uprising, and Iraqi authorities had to rush in reinforcements from Baghdad and Kurdish-run areas of the north to fill the gap.

“It’s a continued campaign of threats, intimidation and murder by insurgents to spread fear into the public,” Army Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a military spokesman in Mosul, said of the assassinations. “Their campaign has been directed at what appears to be Iraqi security forces.”

South of Baghdad, U.S., British and Iraqi forces raided suspected insurgent strongholds around the cities of Latifiyah and Mahmoudiyah, arresting about 70 men suspected of launching attacks in the area.

The raids were part of “Operation Plymouth Rock,” begun Tuesday against insurgents operating between the capital and Shi’ite shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf. Multinational-force commanders hope to close off escape routes for insurgents trying to flee from Fallujah.

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