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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 01:09 GMT
Putin questions Iraqi poll plan
Iraq interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is greeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow
Putin said he backed Iyad Allawi's efforts to stabilise Iraq
Russia's President Vladimir Putin says he has grave doubts about plans to hold elections in Iraq next month.

He told Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi at the Kremlin he could not see how a poll could be held while Iraq was under "full occupation".

Correspondents say the Russian leader's comments are a veiled attack on the US.

However he also expressed support for efforts to stabilise Iraq, and voiced hope that Russian firms could be involved in reconstruction.

A leaked CIA memo by the intelligence agency's senior officer in Baghdad also paints a gloomy picture of the security situation in the country ahead of the 30 January elections.

Iraqi security forces, the memo says, cannot keep pace with the increasingly violent insurgency.

According to the New York Times, the memo adds that the upsurge in violence is preventing the government from projecting authority throughout the country.

According to the report, the CIA station chief, making an end-of-tour assessment, says the violence will increase if Sunni Muslims, who represent a fifth of Iraq's population, boycott the elections.

Allawi trip

In Moscow, Mr Putin and Mr Allawi were seen in a televised meeting.

"To be frank, I cannot imagine how elections can be organised when the country is under full occupation by foreign troops," Mr Putin said.

We are watching with deep concern the difficult processes taking place in a country with which we have enjoyed friendly relations over a long period of time
President Putin

"I also do not see how you, on your own, can rebuild the situation in the country and keep it from collapsing.

"I hope that during my meeting with you today we will manage to discuss all these complex and contradictory issues."

In an interview with Geneva daily newspaper Le Temps, Mr Allawi insisted that the vote would go ahead as scheduled at the end of January.

However, he suggested the vote could be staggered, to allow all of Iraq's ethnic tribes and religious groups to take part safely.

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

"These would allow for adequate security measures to be installed."

Earlier on Tuesday, Iraq's interim President Ghazi Yawer reaffirmed his support for the planned election date, saying that any delay would prolong Iraqis' agony and increase resentment.

Debt cancelled

Mr Putin noted that Russia had supported the UN Security Council resolution calling for elections in Iraq, and said he was ready to support Mr Allawi's efforts to stabilise the country.

The Russian leader's comment on Iraq's elections come hours after an exchange of words at a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, says the BBC's Paul Welsh in Moscow.

Russia accused Western countries of destabilising its neighbours and the US questioned Russia's commitment to basic freedoms, our correspondent says.

On the issue of debt, Mr Allawi said Russia's decision to write off 90% of the amount Iraq owes from the Soviet era would help it play a leading role in reconstructing Iraq's economy.

Russia opposed the Iraq war, but Moscow and Baghdad say they are intent on rebuilding their relationship and putting past bitterness behind them.

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