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Iraq PM: Areas Unsafe For Vote

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Tuesday that some areas of Iraq will probably be too unsafe to take part in the Jan. 30 elections, his first public acknowledgment that the government would not be able to exert control in key areas controlled by insurgents.

Allawi promised, however, to increase the size of the army in the face of a bloody insurgency, whose latest victims included 13 Iraqis killed by two bombings.

Allawi also spoke by telephone Tuesday with President Bush for about 10 minutes to reaffirm the importance of holding the elections as scheduled, the White House said.

In a news conference, Allawi said the government had allocated $2.2 billion to expand the army from 100,000 to 150,000 troops and provide it with new weaponry.

"Hostile forces are trying to hamper this event and to inflict damage and harm on the march and the guarantee for the participation of all in the elections," Allawi said. "Certainly, there will be some pockets that will not be able to participate in the elections for these reasons, but we think that it will not widespread."

The country's volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad and areas in the north around Mosul have seen little preparation for the vote.

In other developments:

  • A captured Syrian insurgent testified that Army reservist Charles Graner laughed, sang and whistled while torturing him in an Iraqi prison. Amin al-Sheikh said Graner jumped on his injured leg and made him eat pork and drink alcohol.
  • The Ukrainian parliament called for an immediate withdrawal of the nation's peacekeepers from Iraq — the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led coalition. The non-binding vote comes a day after outgoing President Leonid Kuchma ordered the foreign and defense ministries to develop a plan for withdrawing Ukraine's troops from Iraq within the first half of 2005. President-elect Viktor Yushchenko also supports a withdrawal.
  • A former Navy SEAL says he saw fellow SEALs and CIA officials kick, choke and eye-gouge detainees at a U.S. military base in Iraq. The former SEAL testified at a military hearing Monday that he saw "interrogation by means of abuse" take place at Camp Jenny Pozzi, the SEAL base at Baghdad International Airport.
  • Iraqi policemen, soldiers and National Guardsmen are increasingly wearing ski masks on the job and lying to neighbors about their work to protect themselves from assassination, the Washington Post reports.

    Allawi is a candidate in the election and has been increasingly visible in recent days. The news conference was his second in as many days, and he stood before several Iraqi flags and signs that read "Security and Safety First."

    Meanwhile, violence across Iraq continued. A roadside bomb hit a minibus full of Iraqis in Yussifiyah, 10 miles south of Baghdad, said the director of the town's hospital, Dawoud al-Taie.

    Al-Taie said the bomb exploded several minutes after a U.S. convoy passed, but there was no indication the convoy was the intended target.

    A suicide car bomber who targeted a police headquarters in Tikrit killed six people, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien said, and police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said 12 were wounded.

    The last two days have seen a new surge of insurgent attacks in the weeks before the balloting, with four roadside bombings and suicide strikes on Iraqi and American forces Monday.

    While Shiites are expected to vote in large numbers, Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq's estimated 26 million people, say it is far too dangerous to hold the election this month, and many are refusing to participate. Failure by the Sunni Arabs to participate would undermine the election's credibility.

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press that his government will meet Sunday with parties planning to boycott the election to try to persuade them to participate.

    In the news conference, Allawi said the government was reaching out to tribal and religious leaders in some of Iraq's volatile regions to try to get them to participate in the vote. He said he expected the country to reach a consensus in the coming days that elections were necessary.

    In other violence Tuesday, an explosion at dawn tore through a gas pipeline between Kirkuk and a refinery in Beiji. An official with the Northern Oil Co. said the pipeline was destroyed and would take five days to repair.

    The official said another blast hit a few pipelines running next to one another in the Zegheitoun area, 35 miles southwest of Kirkuk. The extent of the damage was not immediately known.

    Insurgents repeatedly have targeted Iraq's oil infrastructure, denying the country much-needed reconstruction money. Oil exports to Turkey, the outlet for Iraq's northern fields, were halted because of a bombing in mid-November.

    In a suggestion that the insurgents were looking for new ways to intimidate voters, a militant group posted threats in at least two towns warning it would deploy "highly trained" snipers in Wasit, a largely Shiite province south of Baghdad.

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