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Key Iraq Parties Seek Vote Delay

Seventeen Iraqi political parties representing Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians and secular groups demanded postponing the election for at least six months until the government is capable of securing polling places. The balloting is now scheduled for Jan. 30.

The New York Times reported that the group included parties led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi. Both men are backers of U.S. policy in Iraq. The two main Kurdish parties also supported a postponement. The Kurds have also been strong U.S. supporters.

The declaration was signed at Pachachi's home during a meeting attended by three Cabinet ministers.

Asked about their demand for the election to be postponed, President Bush, at his vacation home in Texas, said, "The Iraqi Election Commission has scheduled elections in January, and I would hope they'd go forward in January."

But Iraq's deputy prime minister told an audience Friday in Wales that sticking to the election timetable would be difficult because of the security crisis.

In other developments:

  • U.S. forces discovered six bodies in Mosul on Friday, bringing the number discovered there over the past two days to 21. In all, 41 bodies have been discovered in the past week.
  • Authorities confirmed that four Nepalese guards were killed and 12 others injured in a rocket attack Thursday on their camp in Baghdad's Green Zone.
  • In Fallujah, insurgents ambushed U.S. troops as they entered a home during house-to-house searches in the former rebel bastion, killing two Marines and wounding three others. Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said about half the buildings in the city had been cleared despite the collapse of organized insurgent resistance there.
  • South of Baghdad, U.S., British and Iraqi forces raided suspected insurgent strongholds around the cities of Latifiyah and Mahmoudiyah, arresting about 70 men suspected of launching attacks in the area. The raids were part of "Operation Plymouth Rock," launched Tuesday against insurgents operating between the capital and Shiite shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf. Multinational commanders hope to close off escape routes for insurgents trying to escape from Fallujah.

    The postponement demand by the 17 parties was seen as a bid to provide political cover for the Iraqi government, which does not want to be seen as trying to remain in power without an election.

    In Wales, Iraq's deputy prime minister, Bahram Saleh, a prominent Kurdish politician, told an audience: "I want the elections to be held on time but it is going to be a tough challenge because the environment of intimidation is a factor."

    However, the clerical leadership of the majority Shiite community has insisted that the government stick to the Jan. 30 date. The country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, brought hundreds of thousands of followers into the streets last January to demand changes in the U.S. formula for transferring power to the Iraqis.

    Any attempt to delay the election without al-Sistani's blessing could trigger a massive backlash within a religious community whose support the United States has sought since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.

    Postponing the election "would cause a constitutional crisis," Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman of the Iraqi National Congress party, told Al-Jazeera television. "What would guarantee that the security issue will be better after six or seven months from now? We want the Iraqis to have the chance to express their clear opinion through the ballots."

    A prominent Shiite political analyst, Ayad Jamal Eldin, said he believed postponing the election would contribute to the security crisis because insurgents would consider the current government illegitimate and "they will continue their acts of sabotage."

    The rift between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite community widened with this month's assault on Fallujah. Many of the Iraqi troops who took part in the offensive were Shiites, and the Shiite hierarchy generally avoided criticism of the attack on the Sunni insurgent bastion.

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