- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government yesterday brushed aside Sunni Muslim demands to delay the Jan. 30 election, and a spokesman for the majority Shi’ite community called the date “non-negotiable.”

Talk of delaying the election gained momentum after influential Sunni Muslim politicians urged the government to postpone the voting for six months to give authorities time to secure polling stations and to persuade Sunni clerics to abandon their call for an electoral boycott.

But a spokesman for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, said the government was sticking to the Jan. 30 date after receiving assurances from the Iraqi Electoral Commission that an election could occur even in Sunni areas wracked by the insurgency.

“The Iraqi government is determined … to hold elections on time,” spokesman Thair al-Naqeeb said.

That position was strongly endorsed yesterday by politicians and clerics from the Shi’ite community, which makes up about 60 percent of Iraq’s nearly 26 million people and which has been clamoring for an election for a while.

In the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, Mohammed Hussein al-Hakim, son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Said al-Hakim, said the Shi’ite leadership would not accept a delay and called this position “non-negotiable.”

He said that elections were “the most legitimate way on the international level to express the will of the people” and that “all parties have agreed on this date, and we cannot take back this position for any reason.”

In Baghdad, a major Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Republic in Iraq (SCIRI), said 42 parties and people from the Shi’ite and Turkomen communities agreed on a statement affirming support for the Jan. 30 date.

SCIRI official Redha Jawad Taqi said the 42 included the other leading Shi’ite party, the Islamic Dawa, and the Iraqi National Congress, which is led by Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shi’ite once strongly supported by the Pentagon.

“The Shi’ite political council will support the elections,” Mr. Chalabi said. “We will fight for the elections and will work to ensure that they are held peacefully on the specified date.”

Iraq’s two major Kurdish political parties said they were ready to take part in national elections on Jan. 30 as planned, but would not object if “other political powers” wanted to postpone the vote.

The Web site of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said yesterday that the party issued a joint statement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party expressing their “readiness to participate at the scheduled time.”

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte, during a surprise visit yesterday to the terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, stressed that the elections should be held on time.

“We believe there will be adequate security for these elections to be held on January 30,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

Violence still grips the Sunni areas despite the U.S.-led assault this month on Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.

A U.S. soldier from the 1st Infantry Division was killed yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. patrol about 40 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

Two U.S. military vehicles, including an armored shuttle bus, were damaged by a bomb on the road to Baghdad International Airport. An al Qaeda-affiliated group took responsibility for the attack.

Three civilians died, and a dozen were injured in other bomb attacks against U.S. convoys in the Baghdad area, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

About 100 insurgents overran the city hall and two police stations in Khalis, 40 miles north of the capital, but were driven off by U.S. and Iraqi forces after a three-hour gunbattle, a municipal official said. Al Jazeera said three Iraqi security guards were killed.

South of the capital, U.S. Marines and British and Iraqi security forces continued operations against suspected insurgent strongholds near the towns of Latifiyah and Mahmoudiya. A U.S. military spokesman said 18 suspected insurgents were taken into custody yesterday, bringing to nearly 130 the number of people arrested since the operation began Tuesday.

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