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. Iraqi defence minister says election delay still possible
CAIRO (AFP) Jan 03, 2005
Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem al-Shaalan said Monday that landmark elections scheduled for January 30 could be delayed to a later date if the Sunni Muslim community agreed to take part.

"We have asked our Arab brothers, particularly in Egypt and Gulf countries, to get Iraqi Sunnis to participate in the elections and if such a participation requires a delay to the election date, they could be delayed," Shaalan told AFP in an interview.

Asked if the United States would accept such a delay, Shaalan said that he was convinced "Washington would be happy that the election operation was comprehensive with the participation of all."

"We want to give our Sunni brothers another chance even if this means delaying the vote," he said.

So far, US President George W. Bush has scoffed at any notion that the election should be delayed, while officials in Baghdad have also insisted they must go ahead as planned on January 30.

The US State Department also reaffirmed Monday its commitment to the January 30 date and said there was no sign of the Iraqi government backing away from the date.

"It is our understanding that the independent electoral commission and the Iraqi interim government remain of the view that elections need to be held on January 30," said deputy spokesman Adam Ereli. "And we are certainly proceeding on that assumption."

Iraq's main Sunni Muslim political movement, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has announced its intention to boycott the landmark vote, dealing a huge blow to hopes that all Iraq's communities would turn out in force for the poll.

The movement of senior politician Adnan Pachachi, who has himself called for a delay, and some independent figures now remain the only real possible options for Sunni representation.

The long-oppressed Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population, are expected to overturn decades of Sunni-dominated rule in the vote, which could worsen the Sunni insurgency raging in Iraq.

Shaalan pointed out that a boycott of the election by Iraq's Sunni political forces would mean that "around one half of (Iraqi) society would be absent from this election and the citizens of Ramadi, Mosul, Tikrit and Diala would not take part."

"We call on our Sunni brothers to show their goodwill and their desire to build a new Iraq," he added.

Shaalan raised the possibility of holding talks with Shiite movements that are not taking part in the elections, such as that of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, saying it was "possible to have a dialogue with them".

Iraqis are to vote for a 275-member national assembly that would draft a constitution to replace the country's interim law passed by the now defunct US-led occupation authority, ahead of fresh elections. They will also elect provincial councils.

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