Leading Iraq parties call for election delay
Leading Iraqi political parties, including the two main Kurdish groups closely allied to the United States, called on Friday for elections scheduled for Jan. 30 to be postponed because of Iraq's widening violence.
Following a meeting at the Baghdad home of Adnan Pachachi, an influential, moderate Sunni leader and former presidential candidate, 15 political parties and groups signed a petition calling for the election to be put off for up to six months.
Three interim government ministers attended the meeting and representatives from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) signed the petition.
A delegate from the Iraqi National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, attended but did not sign.
US President Bush in Crawford, Texas, said he wanted the vote as scheduled.
"In terms of Iraq, the Iraqi Election Commission has scheduled elections in January, and I would hope they'd go forward in January," Bush said.
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 country on religious lines between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.
Most Shi'ites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population, are eager for early elections. Oppressed during Saddam Hussein's rule, they are eager to cement the increased political power they have gained since his overthrow.
The call for postponement comes amid mounting violence, particularly in Sunni Muslim areas to the north and west of Baghdad, and follows calls from influential Sunni religious and political groups for the poll to be postponed.
British security firm Global Risk Strategies said four of its employees were killed and about 15 wounded in a mortar attack on the heavily defended Green Zone on Thursday.
In recent weeks, the Muslim Clerics' Association, a group of senior Sunni scholars, has called for a boycott of the poll. And the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's main Sunni party, which also attending the meeting and signed the petition, has said it will boycott the elections if they go ahead as planned.
In the wake of the U.S.-led offensive on the Sunni city of Falluja, and fighting in Sunni-dominant towns such as Samarra, Baquba, Tikrit and areas around Baghdad, the parties argue that there is not enough time to arrange free and fair elections.
Iraq's interim constitution says elections must be held by the end of January to choose a parliament that will select a new cabinet and oversee the writing of a permanent constitution.
Pachachi's backing for an election postponement is significant.
The Sunni politician is seen as an Iraqi elder statesman and is closely allied to Washington. He was the preferred choice of the United Nations for the Iraqi presidency, but the post went instead to Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni tribal leader.
The participation of the Kurds is also significant. Not only are they close to the United States, but Kurdish regional elections, a chance for the parties to show their strength and influence, were due to be held on Jan. 30 as well.
GREEN ZONE ATTACK
The push for a postponement came amid persistent violence across central and northern Iraq, with insurgents even managing to strike inside the most protected area of Iraq, the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the interim government.
London-based firm Global Risk Strategies, reporting the death of four staff in an attack on the Green Zone, gave no further information on the incident or nationalities of the casualties. Coalition sources said they were believed to be Nepalese Gurkhas, hundreds of whom work for Global in Iraq.
The Green Zone, a sprawling complex surrounded by blast walls, is attacked by mortars or rockets regularly, although most attacks cause little damage.
Two loud explosions echoed from the area on Thursday and thick black smoke was seen rising above the compound.
Global employs more than 1,000 security personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, protecting installations such as Baghdad's international airport.