news services
updated 12/7/2004 11:46:51 AM ET 2004-12-07T16:46:51

With the scheduled Iraqi national election less than two months away, President Vladimir Putin voiced skepticism Tuesday that the vote will go forward, saying he “cannot imagine” how the Jan. 30 elections could be held under current conditions, a news agency reported.

“Honestly speaking, I cannot imagine how it is possible to organize elections under the conditions of occupation by foreign forces,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Putin as saying during a Kremlin meeting with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Putin also said he expected the interests of Russian companies to be considered in Iraqi reconstruction, given that Russia was willing to join in writing off 80 percent of Iraq’s debts to the Paris Club of creditor nations.

Despite the continued fighting, President Bush said last week that Iraq’s elections must not be delayed from their scheduled date of Jan. 30, rejecting calls from more than a dozen political parties there to postpone them until security at the polls can be ensured.

PM's view
Allawi, for his part, said on Tuesday that the elections could be staged over a two or three week period to make sure everyone got the chance to vote under secure conditions.

In an interview with Geneva daily newspaper Le Temps, Allawi insisted that the vote would go ahead as scheduled at the end of next month despite continuing bloodshed.

But in order to ensure that all of Iraq’s ethnic tribes and religious groups could take part safely, the election could be staggered, with different provinces going to the polls on different days, he said.

“I think one can imagine elections spread out over 15 or 20 days, with the dates differing according to the provinces,” Allawi told the newspaper.

“These would allow for adequate security measures to be installed,” he added. Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission, which would be responsible for running the election and any such decision, had no immediate comment on the report.

Allawi had been asked to comment on remarks by United Nations’ special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that it would be difficult to vote if the violence continued.

“The date of Jan. 30 is set. People can have their opinion ... but the elections will take place,” he said.

Calm in most of the country
He said that calm reigned in 14 or 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and that in many of the previously troublesome areas, such as Sadr City in Baghdad and Najaf in the south, reconstruction work was already under way.

The elections would be free and fair and foreign observers would be allowed to accompany all phases of the vote, he added.

Insurgents have repeatedly attacked Iraqi police and National Guards in recent months, part of an apparently coordinated strategy to undermine the country’s inexperienced security forces ahead of elections.

Guerrillas ambushed an Iraqi police patrol in the western city of Ramadi on Tuesday, robbing them of their weapons and burning their vehicles but letting the officers go.

Ramadi and nearby Fallujah are the two largest cities in Iraq’s restive western Anbar province and earlier this year were turned into rebel strongholds by insurgents.

U.S. forces wrested Fallujah back from the guerrillas in an assault last month but unrest persists in Ramadi, where a U.S. military camp in the city frequently comes under mortar attack and U.S. convoys have been ambushed.

(The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.)


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