US sends more troops to Iraq for elections
Iraq's president on Wednesday insisted elections should go ahead next month as planned and the United States said it would send thousands more soldiers to provide extra security for the ballot.
"There will be some short-term deployments of additional troops to help with security," an official said in Washington. "This will all boost our military presence to about 150,000 over the short term."
Iraq's president, Ghazi al-Yawar, said the election should go ahead on time, distancing himself from other leading Sunni Arab politicians who are demanding the polls be put off to a later date because of widespread unrest.
Yawar, a Sunni businessman and tribal elder appointed to the largely symbolic post of president in June, is the first prominent Sunni to reject calls for a postponement.
"We must go ahead with elections, from a legal and a moral point of view... it's my personal view they should go ahead on time," Yawar told a news conference in Baghdad.
Iraq's interim constitution, endorsed by the United Nations, says elections must be held by the end of January to select a transitional assembly which will pick a new cabinet and oversee the drafting of a permanent constitution.
On Wednesday, U.S. Marines fought off Iraqi insurgents who attacked them with mortars during a series of raids to hunt down arms and guerrilla suspects south of Baghdad.
Hundreds of U.S. and British troops raided farms and homes in a fertile stretch of the Euphrates Valley where support for Saddam Hussein used to be strong, and detained 15 suspected guerrillas.
Controversy over the elections has divided Iraq largely along sectarian and ethnic lines. Shi'ites, who make up around 60 percent of the population but were long oppressed under Saddam, insist the polls must go ahead as scheduled, confident the election will cement their new political clout.
But Sunni Arabs, who dominated the country during the rule of Saddam Hussein despite only comprising 20 percent of the population, fear they are being marginalised and say violence in Sunni areas will prevent the election from being free and fair.
Several leading Sunni Arab parties have called for the elections to be postponed by up to six months. Many say they will boycott the polls if they are held in January.
Adnan Pachachi, an Iraqi elder statesman who lost out to Yawar in jockeyeing for the presidency in June, has been spearheading calls for an election delay, saying violence could worsen unless Sunni Arabs can be persuaded to back the polls.
The insurgency against U.S.-led forces and Iraq's American- backed government is dominated by Sunni Arabs, and guerrilla violence has largely been concentrated in Sunni areas.
Iraq's Kurds, who have ruled an autonomous zone in northern Iraq for more than a decade, are ambivalent on calls for an election delay, saying they will accept a delay if a consensus emerges favoring a postponement of the polls.
But while Sunni Arabs parties have mainly been focusing their energies on trying to delay the elections, Shi'ite and Kurdish groups have been maneuvering to ensure they maximize the number of seats they will win.
Under the election rules, Iraq is treated as a single constituency and rival party alliances must submit a list of candidates. The proportion of votes that each slate receives determines how many candidates on that slate are elected.
Leading Shi'ite groups, including the two main Shi'ite political parties -- Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- as well as the movement led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are in talks on joining together on a single slate to ensure the Shi'ite vote is not split.
In northern Iraq, the country's two main Kurdish parties and several smaller Kurdish groups have agreed to contest the elections on a single slate.