Iraqis may extend election amid violence
Iraq may modify plans for its first free election 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.
Responding to a suggestion this week by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that voting could be spread over two or three weeks, the Independent Electoral Commission said it would consider such a proposal if the government were to make it formally.
The Interior Ministry, which with its U.S. military allies faces a massive task to provide security at thousands of polling stations on Jan. 30, also endorsed Allawi's idea, saying voting over several days could reduce vulnerable lines in the streets.
The Commission would have the final say.
But in Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli dismissed the idea, telling reporters "Where we are today is where we were yesterday, various suggestions notwithstanding. January 30 elections are across the country..."
A State Department official who asked not to be named said the department was not considering changing its election plans because the idea so far had too little support among Iraqis.
Allawi made his suggestion to a Swiss newspaper this week in response to remarks by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that violence made Iraq's first free and fair vote very difficult: "One can imagine elections spread out over 15 or 20 days, with the dates differing according to the provinces," he was quoted as saying.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, an opponent of last year's U.S. invasion, told Allawi bluntly in Moscow on Tuesday that he did not see how Iraqis could vote under foreign occupation or how the country could hold together without outside help.
Nearby Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, was again in turmoil on Wednesday, with masked gunmen roaming streets and battling U.S. troops. Two Iraqis were killed in shooting after a suicide car bomber hit a U.S. checkpoint.
North of the capital in Samarra, a city the government said it reclaimed from the guerrillas two months ago, at least six people including two policemen were killed. A suicide bomber attacked a U.S. convoy. In Baghdad itself, two soldiers were slightly wounded when a car bomb struck their patrol.
In Kuwait, where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited troops about to be deployed to Iraq, some challenged him about the quality of the equipment they are taking to war.
"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to armor our vehicles?" one soldier asked Rumsfeld during a question and answer session at Camp Buehring military base, 20 km (12 miles) south of the Iraq border in Kuwait.
"We do not have proper armorment for our vehicles to carry us north."
Rumsfeld said he had discussed this with military commanders. "The goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor appropriate for the troops."
While attacks are legion in north and central Iraq, in the Shi'ite Muslim south voters are expected to flock to the polls to consolidate the new power of the long-oppressed, 60 percent Shi'ite majority.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, visiting the British troops who police the southern city of Basra, said there was no need to delay the election and that preparations were advancing.
"The progress of registration both of individual voters and of the political parties is moving along extremely well," he said.
Rumsfeld highlighted a key element in the occupying powers' election strategy -- bringing troops home: "After the election ... you would see a reduction in the forces of the coalition countries and that's the hope, and that's the expectation."
Following the disclosure of a CIA note painting a gloomy picture of Iraq's future, Rumsfeld, one of the main architects of the invasion, said much was going well. But he conceded: "There's a lot not right in Iraq, that's a fact and we know that, and people have been killed and people have been wounded."