msnbc.com news services
updated 1/11/2005 5:24:00 PM ET 2005-01-11T22:24:00

The 13-strong team organizing elections in Iraq’s restive Anbar province said Tuesday it had quit after receiving death threats from insurgents bent on undermining the polls.

“We submitted our resignation to the governor yesterday. We have been receiving threats by letters and phone,” said Abdel Aziz al-Rawi, who headed the team in the western region where violence is expected to keep many people away from the poll.

Separately, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi conceded Tuesday that some areas of Iraq will probably be too unsafe to take part in the elections.

Reports of mass resignations downplayed
Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission had played down reports of mass resignations by electoral officials in Sunni Muslim provinces to the north and west, where insurgents bent on derailing the Jan. 30 poll have attacked polling centers.

Top electoral officials told reporters on Tuesday that there had been individual resignations, but all those who had stepped down had been replaced. The Anbar team has been replaced by officials from Baghdad, they said.

But electoral officials in many parts of the country have been receiving menacing calls and even e-mails from insurgents fighting to expel U.S. troops from Iraq and undermine its American-backed government, warning them to stop work or risk death.

Seven electoral officers have been killed so far. At least four of them were dragged out of their car on a Baghdad street last month and shot in broad daylight.

The commission employs 1,000 core electoral officials and a further 6,000 provincial officials.

Army expansion
Allawi, for his part, 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. Iraq’s armed forces are poorly trained and often underequipped, making them an easy target for insurgents who want to scuttle the elections.

Allawi promised, however, to increase the size of the army in the face of a bloody insurgency, whose latest victims included 18 Iraqis killed by 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.

Allawi acknowledged that some areas of Iraq likely would be too unsafe to participate in the landmark balloting for a constitutional assembly.

“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,” he 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 [be] widespread.”

Security and Safety First’
Allawi, a candidate in the election, 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.”

American officials have cautioned that insurgents will escalate attacks before the elections.

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 around Iraq during the elections.

The statement, signed by the previously unknown Secret Republican Army, said 32 snipers will operate in Wasit, a largely Shiite province south of Baghdad that includes Kut, Numaniyah and Suwaiyra.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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